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U.S.: Thousands Protest In New York, Voice Discontent Over U.S. Foreign Policy

NYC protesters are unhappy with the Bush administration's foreign policy (file photo) Tens of thousands of people marched yesterday in New York to express frustration over the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush. The protest came on the eve of the Republican National Convention, which kicks off in the city today. Organizers claim half-a-million people participated in the march, which stretched for almost 3.5 kilometers through midtown Manhattan. One police official put the crowd size at only 120,000, however, and it took nearly five hours for the procession to pass by Madison Square Garden, site of the convention. Despite the huge number of participants, the event was largely peaceful. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev attended the rally and files this report.

New York City, 30 August 2004 -- Abby Tisner tends a small book stand near a subway entrance on Manhattan's Union Square -- the official starting and end point of yesterday's rally.

While the main aim of the march was to protest the policies of the Bush administration, the march attracted people from all walks of life and political agendas. Tisner says she is not in New York to protest against Bush but to campaign for Roger Calero, the Socialist Workers Party's candidate for president: "We're for the rights of workers who come from countries oppressed by imperialism to expand electrification. And that means having the resources necessary to expand electrification. The United States is the biggest obstacle to acquiring the energy sources to expand electrification. Two billion people right now live without electrification."

Mark Tipton is a red-haired, 24-year-old trumpet player and animal rights activist. Tipton says he is also a socialist and a strict vegetarian and that he opposes both Bush and the evils of capitalism.
"I hope it stays peaceful. And for people who live here in the city, this convention has had a huge impact on us. But it's alarming to see helicopters and blimps and a huge police presence again."

Tipton says he and about 30 or 40 members of the New York chapter of their animal-rights group are participating in the march: "We're not here to be violent.... We're here to stir people up, to show them a different perspective. People who are just walking by or people watching on TV or whatever. But we're not here to make any violence happen or anything. We don't expect to have revolution right now. It's a gradual process of weeding out people who are particularly heinous, like George Bush, and working our way toward a better future step by step."

It is around noon Sunday, and a girl stands under the blazing sun at the intersection of 28th Street and 7th Avenue holding a placard that says "9/11 Is Not Bush's Photo-Op."

Helicopters hover above as jittery police officers try to contain the crowds. Peter Beetle and his wife, Rachel, are lawyers from Queens -- a borough of New York. They are attending the rally with their two sons -- Noah, 8, and Jacob, 6.

"What's happening right now [is] we're devoting some time to stepping up and saying that we don't want this guy [Bush] making foreign policy in our name and basically dishonoring the memory of 9/11 and violating what we consider is the American way," he said.

Rachel Beetle says that no matter what the political differences are, it is important to show kids that, in America, citizens have the opportunity to express what they feel: "We wanted this to be safe for [the kids], but we feel it is important to educate our children that you have a say in your country. We brought them to show the United States and the world that this is for our children, we look into their future, and we don't like the way our country is headed. We don't like the policies of our country. We are a democracy, and this is part of what we do in the United States --- to try to change what we don't like."

Peter Beetle says that because of Bush's foreign policy, the United States has alienated even the staunchest of its allies: "You're from Radio Free Europe, and your listeners are people that historically, we've stood side by side with for decades. And all of a sudden, now we're pursuing a foreign policy that says, 'Well, if you don't agree with everything we say, we have no time for you.' Well, that's ridiculous!"

A skinny woman on a bicycle says she is the principal of a high school in New York, but declines to give her name: "I think [the march] says something.... It's peaceful. And I hope it stays peaceful. And for people who live here in the city, this convention has had a huge impact on us. But it's alarming to see helicopters and blimps and a huge police presence again."

Police in New York say some 200 people were arrested during yesterday's rally, nine of those for assaulting police officers. Three officers sustained minor injuries in clashes with anarchists. About 500 people have been arrested since anti-Bush protests began on 26 August in New York City.

Aside from the march area in downtown Manhattan, the other parts of the city look desolate on a sunny August Sunday, when streets would normally be packed with hordes of tourists and city dwellers: "Basically, for the usual amount of people that are in the city on a weekend and the amount of traffic -- it's pretty empty. People, I think, fled. And a lot of people I know went away for vacation this week. They didn't want to be anywhere near this. And the threat of terrorism is very frightening, and I'm glad there's a huge police presence, but it's all very disconcerting."

Some say the Republicans should have held their convention in a different city, one in which they have more supporters. New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is a Republican, but the city is considered a stronghold for liberal and Democratic constituents.

Keith Bolt is a 46-year-old carpenter from the neighboring state of New Jersey: "Look, I think many people would claim that [having the convention in New York] is a ploy to take advantage of September 11, 2001, on the part of the Republicans. That's fine, you know. This is not something that the Democrats haven't also done -- take advantage of the emotional aspects of September 11.... I fully support the Republicans being here for this convention. It's a great forum. I mean, where else should they go?"