Some protests turn violent at RNC

September 1, 2008 1:43:19 PM PDT
Thousands of protesters descended on the city hosting the Republican National Convention Monday, some smashing cars, puncturing tires and throwing bottles in a confrontations with pepper-spray wielding police who arrested at least five people. Police said the size of the crowd shifted during the day before estimating it in the range of 8,000 to 10,000, many of whom marched peacefully. The arrests occurred in confrontations several blocks from the Xcel Energy Center where the GOP gaveled its convention to order in late afternoon. A handful of people were arrested for lighting a dumpster on fire and pushing it into a police car, said St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh.

Instead of a single coherent march that organizers had hoped for, fringe groups of anarchists and others wrought havoc along the streets between the state Capitol and the convention site. Some anarchists who had started the trash bin fire later tried to block a major intersection. Police quickly dispersed the group, then shot two tear gas canisters at the fleeing anarchists.

Pictures taken by Associated Press photographers showed officers using pepper spray on protesters who appeared to be trying to block streets.

"There are people who are committing violations of law and they're being arrested," Walsh said.

About 200 people from a group called Funk the War noisily staged its own separate march. Wearing black clothes, bandanas and gas masks, some of their members smashed windows of cars and stores. They tipped over newspaper boxes, pulled a big trash bin into the street, bent the rear view mirrors on a bus and flipped heavy stone garbage bins on the sidewalks.

One man who seemed to be the leader of the group carried a yellow flag with the motto "Don't Tread on Me." The group chanted "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Meanwhile, a group of about 100 anarchists pushed a dumpster filled with trash and threw garbage in the streets and at cars. They also took down orange detour road signs. In hot pursuit were teams of riot officers carrying batons, rifles and guns that could be used to shoot tear gas.

The day's march was organized by a group called the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, whose leaders said they hoped for a peaceful, family-friendly march. But police were on high alert after months of preparations by a self-described anarchist group called the RNC Welcoming Committee, which wasn't among the organizers of the march.

At a rally preceding the march, speaker after speaker called for ending the war in Iraq and more spending on domestic needs.

Peace activist Steve Clemens, 47, from Minneapolis said he was disturbed by the number of police.

"But we can't control that," said Clemens, who had already been arrested once - for crossing into a restricted area during a march Sunday.

Alan Rybak, a real estate agent from Lakeville, Minn., stood along the protest route carrying a sign that read "Support Our Troops."

"I'm here to support our troops and to tell (protesters) to get a job and go home," said Rybak, a Republican Party activist.