Chicago braces for largest anti-NATO demonstration
Chicago: Thousands of demonstrators are expected to gather in Chicago for the NATO summit on Sunday, as the heads of state from about 60 countries prepared to begin a two-day meeting.
The protesters are expected to march from a downtown park to the lakeside convention centre where President Barack Obama and dozens of other world leaders will meet.
The group behind Sunday's parade, Coalition Against NATO-G8, hopes as many as 10,000 people will show their opposition to the Afghan war by participating in the march.
Several hundred demonstrators wound through the city's streets for hours on Saturday, testing police who used bicycles to barricade off streets and horseback officers to coax them in different directions. Increasingly tense clashes between protesters and police resulted in 18 arrests, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.
Most of Saturday's demonstrations remained relatively small and peaceful, including one march to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff. But a later march stretched for hours as protesters zigzagged back and forth through downtown, some decrying terrorism-related charges leveled against three young men earlier in the day.
Organisers pledged a larger crowd when protesters from the Occupy movement will join forces with an anti-war coalition to mark the opening day of the summit later Sunday.
"We want the world to focus on NATO — they're not important and have no mandate anymore," said Micah Philbrook, an Occupy Chicago spokesman, who criticised the large police presence on Saturday. "They're pushing us around and not letting anyone get out of the protest even if they want. They're very aggressive."
McCarthy said police would be ready with quick but targeted arrests of any demonstrators who turn violent on Sunday.
"If anything else happens, the plan is to go in and get the people who create the violent acts, take them out of the crowd and arrest them," warned McCarthy, at the scene of protests after dark. "We're not going to charge the crowd wholesale — that's the bottom line."
He said officers had been hit by batteries and bottles thrown by protesters during the day.
"You can't control what other people are going to do, but I can tell you our cops are doing a great job, and they're prepared," he said.
Security has been tight throughout the city, as the heads of state from about 60 countries began arriving to discuss the war in Afghanistan, European missile defence and other issues. As police gathered en masse on street corners, near parks and key landmarks, the city's streets remained largely vacant and many downtown buildings closed.
(With Agency’s inputs)