Protesters ready for larger Nato demo

2012-05-20 17:14

Chicago - Protesters gathering in Chicago for the Nato summit were gearing up for their largest demonstration on Sunday, when thousands are expected to march from a down town park to the lakeside convention centre where President Barack Obama and dozens of other world leaders will meet.

Hours before the main demonstration was set to start, protesters were already gathering at Grant Park holding signs including one that read: "Nato, Go Home." One protester walked with an American flag turned upside down.

Security has been tight throughout the city, as the heads of state from about 60 countries began arriving to discuss the war in Afghanistan, European missile defence and other issues.

On Saturday, several hundred demonstrators wound through the city's streets for hours, testing police who used bicycles to barricade off streets and horseback officers to coax them in different directions. Increasingly tense clashes on Saturday night between protesters and police resulted in 18 arrests, Police Supt Garry McCarthy said.

Most of Saturday's demonstrations remained relatively small and peaceful, including one march to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff. But a later march stretched for hours as protesters zigzagged back and forth through down town, some decrying terrorism-related charges levelled against three young men earlier in the day.

Organisers pledged a larger crowd when protesters from the Occupy movement will join forces with an anti-war coalition to mark the opening day of the summit later on Sunday.

"We want the world to focus on Nato  they're not important and have no mandate any more," said Micah Philbrook, an Occupy Chicago spokesperson, who criticised the large police presence on Saturday. "They're pushing us around and not letting anyone get out of the protest even if they want. They're very aggressive."

McCarthy said police would be ready with quick but targeted arrests of any demonstrators who turn violent on Sunday.

Hit with batteries

"If anything else happens, the plan is to go in and get the people who create the violent acts, take them out of the crowd and arrest them," warned McCarthy, at the scene of protests after dark. "We're not going to charge the crowd wholesale - that's the bottom line."

He said officers had been hit by batteries and bottles thrown by protesters during the day.

"You can't control what other people are going to do, but I can tell you our cops are doing a great job, and they're prepared," he said.

Police said on Sunday they were investigating a confrontation that happened on Saturday night when a police van ended up surrounded by the protesters who were marching down town. Protesters say the van accelerated through the crowd, injuring a protester who was caught in front of it.

The protester was taken away by ambulance.

But police spokesperson Melissa Stratton said it appeared the driver of the van was punched through the window and one of the van's tires was slashed. She said the incident remains under investigation, and she was not sure whether the protester remains hospitalised.

As police gathered en masse on street corners, near parks and key landmarks, the city's streets remained largely vacant and many down town buildings closed.

"It's strange because down town is empty," said Gabe Labovitz, a 44-year-old economist out for a walk near his home. "The police presence is reassuring but unnerving."

Three activists who travelled to Chicago for the summit were accused on Saturday of manufacturing Molotov cocktails in a plot to attack Obama's campaign headquarters, Emanuel's home and other targets. But defence lawyers argued that the police had trumped up the charges to frighten peaceful protesters away.

They told a judge it was undercover officers who brought the fire bombs to an apartment in Chicago's South Side where the men were arrested.

- AP
Read more on:    nato  |  us  |  protest
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