Protesters face police raids at the Republican Convention

By staff writers
September 4, 2008

In developments which have been largely ignored in the US media, police have staged preemptive armed raids targeting protesters and alternative media around the Republican National Convention - including thousands of people demonstrating about war world poverty throughout the week.

Up to ten thousand marchers, many veterans of Iraq and past wars, joined peaceful protests on Monday. Their cause has gone largely unreported, however.

Meanwhile, baton-wielding police later arrested 250 people, claiming a "riot". But eyewitnesses say they were subject to unprovoked attacks, including pensioners and peace activists. BBC video footage does not show any violence by protestors.

There have been reports of clashes outside the main marches involving a hundred or more people.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds because they said were trying to get past security fences. The Minnesota National Guard sent also sent in 150 soldiers to keep demonstrators out of the vicinity of the Xcel Centre in St Paul, where Republican delegates have been meeting.

Security has been extremely tight in St Paul. On Monday 1 September snipers were positioned on nearby buildings and a helicopter hovered overhead as the main march took place.

“We joined up with an altruistic vision of promoting freedom and justice around the world,” said Vince Emanuel, a Marine lance corporal who did a tour of duty in Iraq from August 2004 to April 2005, explaining why he was joining the protest.

He added: "What we saw was the killing of innocent people and the destruction of property ... for a lot of us it was very disenfranchising."

The veterans group tried to hand a message to the campaign of Republican White House candidate John McCain calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, reparations for the Iraqi people, and full medical benefits for veterans. No one from Mr McCain’s campaign would received them, Mr Emanuel said.

Meanwhile, activists for alternative media and protest groups claim that staff members have been handcuffed and arrested, held in detention for days without charges, and had their equipment seized or 'disappeared' at gunpoint.

Protestors are supposed to be confined to a “Free Speech” zone fenced off a long way out of the sight of convention goers.

One person backing the demonstrations, Toby Grace, commented this week: "We had been under the perhaps erroneous impression that the entire United States was a free speech zone."

He added: "Bush, Cheney, McCain, Fox News, innumerable police authorities and the [the] corporate media have been doing their best to convince us we must surrender much of our basic liberty to win this endless, amorphous 'war on terror,'... [B]ut you don’t defend liberty by surrendering it."

On Wednesday 3 September, police wielding batons and a battering ram entered the professional office building on Selby Avenue in St Paul where I-Witness Video, a New York-based collective reporting on civil liberties issues, was renting work space.

Ms Geneva Finn, an attorney with the National Lawyer's Guild went to head off the police. After the they left, she made this statement at an impromptu press conference.

"A few minutes ago, one of our legal observers called me to the door. I saw the St Paul police unloading a bunch of equipment from their cars and they saw me at the door. They saw me at the door, they motioned me forward. I came forward to their cars. They told me that they had reports that somebody was holding somebody hostage in the building, that there had been a kidnapping. They told me that somebody, an undercover had told them, that the anarchists were holding people hostage in our building.

"I work for the NLG [National Lawyers Guild] here, we have, we're working at one of our lawyer's offices, I said, 'Is it in our law office?' They said 'No, it's upstairs.' They then came into the building with me, I showed them what was going on upstairs. They did a pull-up on the frame of I-Witness' door, looked in, saw that there was people in there, nobody was being held hostage. I then asked the police to leave, since no one was obviously being held hostage here, and they refused. Eventually their head sergeant came here, and decided that they could leave the building."

I-Witness commented: "They were able to put pressure on the landlord to do something that they could not force under the law. We were informed that, as a result of all of the commotion, our landlord wanted us to leave the premises immediately."

With acknowledgments to Paul Canning

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