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Ten arrested in protests at Democratic convention

LOS ANGELES -- Baton-wielding police pounced swiftly to break up a street sit-in on Monday, arresting 10 people on the opening day of a Democratic National Convention already marked by carnival marches, bomb scares and traffic chaos.

About 1,000 demonstrators protesting what they termed Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's stock holdings in Occidental Petroleum were escorted by police on bicycles as they staged a noisy and colourful march from the downtown area to the heavily fortified Staples Center where Democrats are gathering.

The Los Angeles-based company has come under fire from environmentalists for its plans to drill for oil on land claimed by the U'wa Indian tribe in northeastern Colombia. Protesters claim Gore has family shares in Occidental valued at up to $1 million, but the Gore campaign Monday said the vice president is only executor for the estate of his father, who had owned the stock.

The march passed off without incident and ended in a concert with R&B singer Bonnie Raitt and Doors drummer John Densmore.

But as the marchers and their giant satirical puppets dispersed and protesters gathered for the second big demonstration of the day, some 200 police in riot gear swooped to disperse a sit-in by 15 people linking hands across a key intersection.

In the first violent incident of a week expected to be thick with protests, several people were hit by batons and police said they made 10 arrests on charges of failing to disperse.

"They were knocking people down in the street and there were kids getting pushed. The response was totally heavy handed," said Zev Kvitky, a local labour union leader who saw the incident.

Police swamp route

Police on foot, bicycles, squad cars, horses and motorbikes have swamped the one-mile (1.6-km) route between downtown and the fence-ringed Staples Centre in a dual mission to protect property and discourage potential troublemakers demonstrating on issues ranging from forest logging to the death penalty.

A 4,000-strong march demanding a new trial for former Black Panther activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row in Pennsylvania in the murder of a Philadelphia policeman, passed off noisily but peacefully on Sunday.

But on Monday the city was feeling the strain of all the visitors -- official and unofficial. Three bomb scares were reported at the Los Angeles Police headquarters, at a building a block from the Staples Centre, and on the coast at Venice beach. Nothing was found.

Traffic snarled downtown as police closed roads and freeway ramps at a moment's notice and tempers frayed as drivers tried to find alternate routes to workplaces. Police helicopters buzzed continuously overhead and the downtown area was pierced by the scream of sirens.

Normally sedate downtown streets thronged with an eclectic mixture of delegates in bright business suits and activists in T-shirts, shorts and backpacks. Many offices had closed or were operating with minimal staff.

Some 2,500 protesters angry at the influence of big business on politics set out on Monday afternoon on a "tour of corporate shame."

On Monday night the political rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine plans a free, outdoor concert across the street from Staples Center, forcing police to juggle safety, security and free speech concerns.

The concert is scheduled to take place as President Bill Clinton addresses the convention and after a march bring dozens of protest groups together with the theme "Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed."

But police are concerned that the free concert could draw a crowd that has no interest in political causes and may want to incite trouble during the convention.

"We're gravely concerned because of security reasons -- just the large number of individuals that this will bring out," said Los Angeles Police spokesman David Kalish.

Rage Against the Machine, whose latest album has sold 2 million copies, did not need a permit to perform because a federal judge in July approved the protest zone as an open demonstration site.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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Monday, August 14, 2000


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