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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 11:28 GMT
Protesters slam New York police tactics
A policeman outside the Waldorf Astoria
There is heavy security outside the Waldorf Astoria
Kevin Anderson

The New York City Police Department is determined to show that it is ready for the thousands of protesters expected in the city to demonstrate against this year's World Economic Forum.

Thousands of police will be on hand and authorities promise that the laws will be strictly enforced, from walking against the traffic lights to an 1845 law banning demonstrators from wearing masks.

We will not tolerate lawbreaking of any kind

Joseph Esposito
New York City Chief of Police
But protest groups say that the police and the media have attempted to portray them as terrorists.

They also complain that the focus on potential clashes has deflected attention from their criticism of the World Economic Forum.

Zero tolerance

Some 4,000 police will ring several blocks around the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where about 3,000 world leaders, corporate leaders and deep thinkers are gathering for the Forum.

Beka Economopolos, organiser for the Anti World Economic Forum, speaks at a news conference
Protesters say the police are using 'scare tactics'
The security cordon went up on Wednesday, as concrete barriers and sanitation trucks filled with sand closed off some 10 blocks around the hotel.

Sniffer dogs were also checking vehicles for explosives at traffic checkpoints.

The ranks of the New York Police Department will be bolstered by the FBI, the US Secret Service, the diplomatic service and private security agents.

War of words

During this week, police and protesters have held duelling press conferences.

The police announced that they will implement a zero tolerance policy.

"We will not tolerate lawbreaking of any kind,'' New York City Chief of Police Joseph Esposito said.

For weeks, the police have been training in riot tactics. We've been training in samba, puppetry and street theatre

Brooke Lehman
The police also promised to enforce an 1845 law banning demonstrators from wearing masks.

Protesters often carry large puppets that cover their heads, and many wear scarves or bandanas over their mouths to mask their identity and to give some relief if tear gas is used.

Police said they wanted to avoid violence and property destruction seen at other economic meetings in recent years including Seattle and Quebec.

To highlight their preparedness, the media was invited to watch as thousands of officers trained at Shea Stadium, practicing crowd control and mass arrests.

'Scare tactics'

For their part, protesters said that they would be peaceful and added that if any violence started, it would begin with the police.

Activist Brooke Lehman said: "For weeks, the police have been training in riot tactics. We've been training in samba, puppetry and street theatre."

They also complained that police are painting them with a broad brush as violent and dangerous.

"The police have been putting up a counter-campaign trying to portray protesters as terrorists," said Mac Scott at a news conference organised by protest groups.

But Eric Laursen of Another World is Possible says that the protests would be vibrant and colourful, not dark and violent.

Money arguments

Protesters plan to carry large canvasses stretched on frames with themes "that show what could be done with the $13m the city is spending on this five-day cocktail party".

Two policeman walk past a security barrier
Concrete barriers have been put up in midtown
In return for that $13m, city planners expect the delegates to spend $20m and for the World Economic Forum to generate another $100m in revenue for New York City businesses.

Responding to the police, Mr Laursen said that he and most of the other protest organisers are from New York and have discussed at length what they believe are appropriate forms of protest in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

The greatest day of protest is expected to be Saturday with several marches planned.

Mr Laursen said the police are trying to do two things ahead of the protests, which are to "scare away as many people as possible from participating in the event and... create a climate of fear around us as a pre-emptive excuse for any violence they mete out."

Getting the message across

Protesters are also becoming frustrated that press coverage of potential conflict is deflecting attention from their message.

Mr Laursen said they condemn the Forum as "the intellectual godparents of economic globalisation that allow multi-national corporation to pry open and exploit markets".

The Forum is an elitist organisation that shows the incestuous relationship between corporate leaders and government officials, he said, citing the Enron scandal as an example.

But Charles McLean, spokesman for the World Economic Forum, said the meetings were a broad effort to create a better world, but added he knew he would have a difficult time convincing the protesters of this.

"They don't want to believe it," he said.

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