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Convention-related arrests top 500

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Protesters on the move
Protesters were unable to move beyond the bridge on John Ireland Blvd. over Interstate 94. The protesters were chanting "You're sexy, you're cute, take off your riot suit" to the police who were lined up on the streets.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

At least 510 people have been arrested in Republican National Convention-related incidents since Saturday, said a spokesman for the combined law enforcement agencies overseeing safety in the Twin Cities.

That number is likely to climb, as hundreds of people who were detained during street protests Thursday were still being screened and hauled off to the Ramsey County Jail by the busload at midnight.

About 88 people had been booked by midnight in incidents stemming from protests that began late Thursday afternoon, said James Lockwood of the St. Paul Joint Information Center. As many as 300 had been detained, and many of those could be booked on charges, Lockwood said.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said about a dozen journalists and about six lawyers who had been detained would be cited and released rather than taken to jail.

YAWR march
Protesters march down Ceder Ave. in St. Paul Thursday as part of a demonstration organized by Youth Against War and Racism.
MPR Photo/Ross Holtan

Speaking with reporters near where police were processing detainees, Fletcher blamed the disruptions on more than 400 people -- he called them anarchists -- that his and other agencies had been tracking for the past year.

"There were a lot of brazen criminal acts, and those same 400 are still in town," Fletcher said.

University of Minnesota law student Peter Ebnet, an observer for the National Lawyers Guild, said he got caught in Thursday's chaos as well. He was one of some 300 people he estimated were detained.

"People didn't know where to disperse," Ebnet said. "When those flash bangs started shooting off we were given an order to go, and it was just the luck of the draw wehther you got caught or not."

The protest started at the Minnesota state Capitol, moved to a standoff on a local bridge, returned to the Capitol, then expanded to University Ave. by about 8:30 p.m.

YAWR
Members of the student organization Youth Against War and Racism march past Minnesota Public Radio headquarters in downtown St. Paul Thursday.
MPR Photo/Ross Holtan

Dozens of the people who fled concussion grenades and smoke bombs on University Ave. were detained, and some received medical aid, on Marion Street where it crosses Highway 94. 

Misael Ivan Lopez, 20, of Minneapolis, said he was documenting the action on his video camera, got caught in the middle of a chaotic crowd targeted by police using pepper spray on University Ave.

"I put myself on the ground and went fetal, but a guy just bent my head out to the side, tore my goggles off and sprayed me," said Lopez, as he sat on the ground, rocking back and forth while a few march volunteers tended to him.

The Republican National Convention's status as a special security event ends at noon Friday, Lockwood said.

The fracas started after police ordered several hundred people who had gathered at the Minnesota state Capitol for a protest march to disperse at 5 p.m. when their permit expired. The march was sponsored by the Anti-War Committee.

The crowd, chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" moved toward downtown St. Paul, skirting a line of police at 12th Street and Wabasha. 

The bulk of the crowd moved onto John Ireland Blvd. Police on foot and horseback and some dump trucks blocked them where the street crosses Highway 94. A standoff ensued for about a half-hour. 

Some of the marchers took an absurdist tact, taunting the black-garbed, armored police: "You're sexy, you're cute, take off that riot suit!"

The crowd eventually moved back to the Capitol lawn.

Members of the independent Minnesota Peace Team monitoring the march had advised participants it was time to leave the bridge, and some locked arms to move the protesters back from the police line.

When the bulk of the crowd returned to the Capitol green, another standoff began at 12th and Cedar streets, and at 6:30 p.m. police declared the assembly unlawful. Such declarations have preceded tear gas releases in past clashes between police and protesters this week.

By 7:30 p.m. police arrested about a dozen people who lay in the street, then they moved quickly into the crowd to grab at least one more person. 

The crowd then moved away from 12th and Cedar streets. Some of those may have been among the University Ave. crowd that massed later.

In a side episode, police sent two bomb retrieval robots after a maroon backpack that had been abandoned on the sidewalk on the John Ireland Blvd. bridge.

The backpack was one of several abandoned bags investigated around the city, said Lockwood. None contained explosives or dangerous items, he said.

The protest unfolded on the Internet on live video from people using mobile telephones on www.qik.com. Also, a staffer from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which is taping this week in St. Paul, was in the midst of the crowd sending 140-character quips and reports over the Twitter.com messaging site.

Meanwhile in town, merchants said police encouraged them to close early to avoid possible street violence on the final day of the Republican National Convention.

Andrea Shackelford of Caribou Coffee in Town Square said she talked to police.

"The cops came by and encouraged us to close early," Shackelford said. "They said there will be protests and maybe riots later and it could get violent."

WCCO reported that state workers are being allowed to leave work early in St. Paul Thursday so they could avoid the protest.

Lockwood, the law enforcement spokesman, said police issued no official request for businesses to close early or for workers to vacate downtown.

Police had expected the protest to mirror those of the past week -- mostly peaceful but not without provocation.

"Usually there's a few that are bent on civil unrest that mix in with the parade or the march," said Pete Crum with the RNC's joint law enforcment unit.

"We will be ready, just as we have been."

Around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, 250 students and young adults marched from the Capitol along Cedar St.  en route to Harriet Island, demanding an end to the Iraq war. St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington discouraged students form skipping school to participate.

Sporting bright banners and a papier mache resembling Dick Cheney, students took to the streets this afternoon to protest the Iraq war.

The group has permits for the march to Xcel and for Harriet Island, and negotiated a "legal walk" with police between Xcel and Harriet Island, said organizer Ty Moore. 

Moore said organizers passed out leaflets around St. Paul and Minneapolis high schools urging students to participate. He was concerned that some St. Paul school leaders tried to dissuade students from participating by raising worries about student safety on the streets of St. Paul.

"We're quite upset the schools would play into the fear-mongering," said Moore, adding the organizers were trying to make the march a family friendly event. "There's no reason to believe there will be violence."

Chief Harrington said he worked through school officials to discourage a walk out.

Last night, police arrested more than 100 protesters in downtown Minneapolis following a politically charged concert by the band Rage Against the Machine. 

Of 102 people arrested, 87 were tagged and released, and 15 were booked. 

The arrests were the first big law enforcement event to occur in Minneapolis since the beginning of the RNC in St. Paul earlier this week.

(Minnesota Public Radio News reporters Matt Peiken, Sea Stachura, Molly Bloom, Srini Radhakrishna, Paul Tosto, Brandt Williams, Laura Yuen and Tom Weber contributed to this story, as did the Associated Press.)