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264 arrested in NYC bicycle protest

From Jonathan Wald

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- In the first major clampdown on protesters before the Republican National Convention, New York police arrested 264 people Friday night during a mass demonstration.

About 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park at 6 p.m. for "Critical Mass," a monthly bike ride around Manhattan, sponsored by environmental group "Times Up!"

Police started making arrests at around 8:30 p.m. in several locations along the bike route, including Madison Square Garden -- the venue for the Republican National Convention. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

The cyclists caused "massive disruptions including of people trying to get to the hospital and so we took appropriate action," said NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Paul Browne.(Protesters use tech to help organize)

Cyclists said the bike ride was peaceful and the police acted unreasonably.

"It was a very peaceful, friendly occasion, like a parade," said one of the cyclists, Ellie Maxwell.

"Everyone was riding along when police suddenly penned us in and started picking people off," Maxwell said.

"The police actually caused more disruptions than the cyclists because they blocked off roads -- at one point for as long as an hour and a half -- whereas the cyclists were always moving."

Most of those arrested were taken for processing to Pier 57 and will be charged with disorderly conduct, an NYPD spokesman said.

The three-story, block-long pier has been converted to a holding pen especially for those protesting the convention so that city precincts will not be overrun by waves of arrests.

The pier can hold 1,000 people and will remain in operation until the end of the U.S. Tennis Open.

Police distributed flyers at the start of the ride in Union Square warning that anyone breaking traffic laws could be subject to arrest.

The monthly bike ride drew thousands more than usual due to the number of people who wanted to protest against the convention.

"Critical Mass" takes place on the last Friday of every month to promote the interests of bicyclists.

According to its Web site, "Critical Mass's aim is to make people take notice of cyclists as road users."

"Although some obstruction of 'normal' traffic occurs," says the Web site, "we are only seeking to raise the profile of cycling, and put cycling and transport issues on the agenda so that they will not be ignored."

An estimated 250,000 protesters are expected to march from Union Square on Sunday past Madison Square Garden.

CNN Producer Jamie McShane contributed to this report

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