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US Court Rejects Last Ditch Effort to Protest Republicans in Central Park - 2004-08-26


A New York State Supreme Court judge has rejected a last minute attempt by an anti-Republicans group to hold a massive rally in New York City's Central Park.

United for Peace and Justice, a nationwide coalition of anti-war, anti-Bush groups, sued New York last week for refusing to give the group a permit to hold a demonstration in the Park on Sunday, the day before the Republican Party Convention officially begin.

During a two-day hearing, UPJ's lawyer, Christopher Dunn, argued that the group's constitutional rights to free speech were at issue.

"They are not prepared to not have a critically important rally at a critically important time in terms of our political history and and our personal history and that is the position the city is trying to put them in," he said.

The city says that the 250,000 people expected at the rally would damage the Great Lawn, which was repaired at a cost of $18 million a few years ago. UPJ said it would provide volunteers to repair any damage.

The group had initially accepted the city's offer of a permit to demonstrate along the West Side highway. But the group changed its mind last week, saying it would be too expensive to provide sound systems that would reach participants along the highway. UPJ also said the alternative site presented health risks because of the lack of shade.

But the city's attorney, Jonathan Pines, said it is too late to change sites and provide adequate security.

"We could have been here in June. We could have been here in July," he said. "No, we are here now with mere days left. There is simply not enough time left to do anything other than West Street and indeed even the West Street will severely test the resources of all of us to get this rally in place."

Judge Jacqueline Silberman agreed, saying UPJ was "guilty of inexcusable and inequitable delay" in bringing the case to court.

Prior to the ruling, UPJ said if it lost the lawsuit it would cancel the rally and just march past Madison Square garden, where the Republican Convention is being held. While the hearing was taking place, UPJ officials met with police officials to discuss security for the march. But UPJ leader, Leslie Cagan, says the court was wrong and some protesters will probably try to rally at the original site.

"Some people are still going to go to Central Park," she said. "Unless the City closes down Central Park, people are going to go."

UPJ has accused the city of discriminating against political events. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg says no one is denying protesters their rights.

"We are not trying to trample on anybody's First Amendment rights," he said. "We are just not saying that your First Amendment rights are more or less important than the people on either side of you. You all have rights."

Earlier in the week, a federal judge rejected a similar lawsuit filed by two smaller groups that wanted to demonstrate in the Park on Saturday.

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