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NY Police Say No Protest in Central Park During Republican Convention - 2004-07-15

New York City has rejected a protest group's request to hold a massive rally in Central Park on the eve of the Republican presidential nominating convention at the end of August. But the group, United for Peace and Justice, or UFPJ, says it will continue to press for a permit.

New York is granting 14 groups permits to demonstrate during the four-day Republican Convention that begins August 30. But the city says "no" to UFPJ's application to stage a massive demonstration on the Great Lawn of Central Park the day before the convention.

The group requested a permit for as many as 250,000 people to rally against Bush administration policies, including the war in Iraq, in Central Park. The 340-hectare park is located in the middle of residential neighborhhoods in Manhattan. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benape says the damage caused by such a large protest could take up to a year to repair.

"You simply cannot fit a quarter of a million people onto the Great Lawn," said Adrian Benape. "That would be like trying to put a quarter of a million people into Shea Stadium, which holds 50,000."

Instead, the city suggests that protesters march along a route on Manhattan's West Side, which will take them past Madison Square Garden, the site of the Convention. Part of the route is along the West Side highway, which borders the Hudson River. Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, says the proposed alternative will put the group at the edge of the city and makes it impossible to construct a sound system that will reach all participants.

"We are very happy with the march part of it, marching past Madison Square Garden," she said. "We are not happy with their proposal to go the the West Side Highway. We think that marginalizes us. It puts us literally on the edge of the city. That is not where we want to be. We would like to keep the negotiations going."

UFPJ is an umbrella organization for more than 800 local mostly anti-war groups across the country. The group staged a rally at City Hall Thursday to express its disappointment and called Mayor Michael Bloomberg to continue discussing demonstration sites.

"Part of why I am out here today is because I think that absolutely we have a right to protest at the RNC [Republican National Committee]. Millions of people across this country are outraged over what this president has been doing," said a protester.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says UFPJ can accept the alternative proposal or pursue the issue in court.

"This is our final offer," he said. "Obviously they have the ability to go to court to resolve it in some fashion that way. But this we believe is a reasonable alternative and we need closure on this issue now."

The city and the police have been discussing the site of the rally for months. But Commissioner Kelly says it is now time to move on and work out the logistics of the security and sanitation requirements of protesters.

UFPJ leaders say they have not yet decided if they will appeal to the courts.