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US: Protests Focus on Corporations Supporting Iraq War

by Joe Garofoli, Harriet Chiang, Peter Fimrite, Wyatt BuchananSan Francisco Chronicle
March 25th, 2003

Anti-war demonstrators are turning away from the widespread protests that disrupted San Francisco last week and are instead using smaller actions focusing on the government and businesses that contribute to the U.S. war effort, activists said Monday.

The shift in tactics came after protests Thursday closed much of downtown to traffic and smaller demonstrations Friday led to several hundred arrests.

City officials pleaded with protesters to scale back their efforts, saying that dealing with them was costing the city $900,000 a day and inconveniencing thousands of people -- many of whom agreed with their anti-war stance.

On Monday, a few hundred protesters organized by Direct Action to Stop the War chose two sites in San Francisco to test the new strategy -- the Federal Building and the Carlyle Group, a politically connected investment firm with offices in the Transamerica Pyramid.

In a separate action at San Francisco State University, several hundred students held a peace rally that ended with a sit-in at the school's administration building.

"People are moving on from tying up intersections and preventing ordinary San Franciscans from getting to work," said Andrea Buffa, national spokeswoman for United for Peace and Justice, one of the anti-war movement's largest umbrella organizations.

"We sent a powerful message last Thursday that on the day after the war started there would be no business as usual," Buffa said. "Now, we're going to show how corporations are profiting from the war."

Obeying Rules for Pedestrians

Monday's protesters appeared to be careful about clashing with police, urging each other to stay on the sidewalk and cross intersections with the light.

Downtown, the action started around 7 a.m. at Justin Herman Plaza, where a couple of hundred people gathered before walking up Market Street in a mock funeral procession to mourn people killed in the first days of the war -- U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike.

"We're mourning the children who died in the first Persian Gulf War and those who have died since then because of the sanctions," the Rev. Louie Vitale of St. Boniface Church in San Francisco said as he paused at a crosswalk to wait for the motorcycle police officers escorting them.

"We also grieve those soldiers who have died and those who will die," he said. "War is just hell."

One group of protesters marched to the Federal Building, near the Civic Center, and blocked the entrance on Turk Street.

Gopal Dayaneni, 33, refused to leave the back door of the building, which was protected by steel barricades, when police gave the order to disperse around 10 a.m.

"I have a soul," Dayaneni said, explaining his decision to stay behind as police in riot gear surrounded him and other protesters.

Around noon, about 75 protesters were escorted to two white buses, searched and eventually whisked off to Pier 27, where plans were to cite most of them and release them.

Calling Attention to Investors

While the demonstration at the Federal Building was going on, other protesters were at the Transamerica Pyramid to focus on the Carlyle Group, whose investor roster ranges from former President George H.W. Bush to the Saudi family of Osama bin Laden.

Some protesters locked arms, and police moved in and loaded them into waiting buses.

The rest of the crowd moved to Washington and Montgomery streets, where an eclectic mix of yoga practitioners, chanting protesters, riot police and confused passers-by mingled.

"Compared to some of the other arrestees over the past week, this was kind of nice," said Police Department spokesman Bob Mammone.

"They're not yelling epithets at us," he said. "It's a real peaceful, serene scene here, especially with the chanting. And the yoga was nice to watch, but unfortunately, they're still getting arrested."

About 125 protesters regrouped at Powell and Market streets at 5 p.m. Monday and wandered down to the Embarcadero and back up toward the Castro.

At about the same time, a group of about 100 students who had been staging a sit-in on the first floor of S.F. State's administration building dispersed on their own, said school spokeswoman Ligeia Polidora.

That group, part of a larger crowd that had come from an 11 a.m. rally, presented five demands: that administrators pass a resolution condemning the war; that the FBI and police not interfere with either the student peace movement or with international students; that the administration lift sanctions on a Palestinian student group; that the administration provide money for the anti-war movement; and that there be no increase in tuition or fees this year.

Polidora said administrators have not responded to the students' demands but the faculty senate already has passed a resolution against the war.

None of the students was arrested.

San Francisco Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said police had made about 130 protest-related arrests throughout the day, bringing the total since Thursday to almost 2,300.

Police Withstand the Stress

The hundreds of police officers who have been keeping protesters in check for five days now are holding up well -- despite taunts, name-calling and marathon shifts, said Assistant Police Chief Alex Fagan Sr., who watched the crowd assemble at Justin Herman Plaza.

Fagan said he believed 99 percent of the protesters had been peaceful.

"It's that 1 percent that's unlawful that requires 75 percent more resources," he said.

Deputy Chief Rick Bruce, who is in charge of the special operations and security bureau for the San Francisco police, said that, overall, the protests had gone well Monday.

"There were no fights, no struggles, and nobody resisted arrest," Bruce said. "Yoga for Peace has been out here every day. They are very nice, and they are extremely limber.

"The political message is irrelevant to us," he said. "If a bunch of pro- war demonstrators decided to take over the streets and disrupt the operations of the city, we would do the same thing. It's an issue of keeping the city open and running."

Chronicle staff writers Kathleen Sullivan and Suzanne Herel contributed to this report.





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