ST. PAUL, Minn. — Several people who refused to clear the area Thursday were arrested after a planned, anti-war march to the site of the Republican National Convention became a sit-in after police blocked the protest route.
Hundreds tried to cross two different bridges leading from the state Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where Sen. John McCain was accepting his party's nomination for president. But they were met by lines of police, in gas masks and riot gear, who blocked the bridges after the marchers' permit expired.
Police began making arrests about two hours into the standoff as the crowd dwindled from about 1,000 to around 100.
"The important thing is even though we didn't have a permit to march, people have decided they want to keep protesting despite all these riot police," said Meredith Aby, a member of the Anti-War Committee.
Mood more relaxed, in spite of arrests
Even as police made arrests, the mood was more relaxed than earlier in the week, when violence erupted.
It even turned festive at times.
Younger people did cartwheels, and tourists came to check out the spectacle. The chants, which were political at the outset, turned silly a couple hours in.
"You're sexy, you're cute, take off the riot suit," protesters serenaded those blocking their path.
Besides the arrests at the sit-in, a young couple lying on the Capitol lawn was arrested before the march began.
St. Paul Police Sgt. John Lozoya said the man was suspected of breaking a window at a Macy's during a march downtown on Monday. He did not know why the other person, a young woman, was arrested.
Protesters circled the officers, chanting "Let them go, let them go," as they made the arrests.
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Accusations of intimidation
Speakers at a rally, which attracted about 500 people, angrily accused police of trying to intimidate protesters and vowed the march would go on.
"The kids were just sitting on the ground and the police walked up to them and jumped them," said Lisa Stone, 41, of St. Paul, who witnessed the arrests. "This is a demonstration to try to promote peace. That's not going to happen if this is the way they're going to act. All it's doing is hyping everyone up."
More than 400 people have been arrested in the past week, most on Monday, when violence broke out at the end of another anti-war march.
The Anti-War Committee, which organized Thursday's march, urged others to join in and denounced the increased presence of police in riot gear and acts of "intimidation" in the city.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty blamed the week's violence on a small group of "anarchists, nihilists, and goofballs who want to break stuff and hurt people."
"They need to be dealt with," Pawlenty said in a radio interview with WCCO-AM of Minneapolis.
Earlier Thursday, about 150 people marched peacefully from the Capitol across the Mississippi River to a park near the Xcel center, chanting: "Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Cheney need to go to Guantanamo."
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