NEW YORK — As President Bush accepted the Republican nomination for four more years in the White House, thousands of protesters shouting anti-Bush slogans marched from Union Square in downtown Manhattan, apparently heading toward Madison Square Garden — where Bush spoke and at least two protesters were bodily removed.
The march from downtown Manhattan appeared to be peaceful but loud. Hundreds of New York City police officers, many wearing riot helmets, stood alongside the streets as the marchers passed by.
The convention received a mostly mellow sendoff from demonstrators who had spent the early part of the week venting their rage at the Bush administration.
Hundreds of protesters gathered — noisily but without incident — near Madison Square Garden as a huge wall of police stood between them and the site of the convention. As Bush began his acceptance speech inside at about 10 p.m., the crowds of protesters outside began to disperse. The week saw nearly 1,800 arrests in all, but only 26 on Thursday.
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At about 10:35 p.m., police led the estimated 5,000 protesters from Union Square, where they gathered for a candlelight vigil, to Madison Square Garden, about 20 blocks away.
"I'm here as an advocate for peace," said John Morris, 44, sitting with a candle in his hands at the vigil, organized by United for Peace and Justice. "Our president missed an opportunity for peace, and we need a new leader."
Protests trickled into the arena. A protester was removed from the convention after starting to heckle Bush during his speech. Delegates tried to drown out the protester with chants of “Four more years!” Minutes later, a second protester surfaced, and a similar scene took place.
A judge ordered the immediate release of nearly 500 protesters just hours before President Bush’s speech at the Republican convention, then fined the city for refusing to comply with his order.
Judge orders protesters let go
State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo fined the city $1,000 for every protester held past a 5 p.m. deadline that he had set for their release. It was unclear how many detainees were still in custody, but Cataldo had ordered the release of 470 people.
“These people have already been the victims of a process,” Cataldo told the city’s top lawyer. “I can no longer accept your statement that you are trying to comply.”
There were accusations that the city was deliberately holding the protesters longer so they would not be in the streets during President Bush’s speech Thursday evening. Police have been preparing for heavy protests in the city directed at Bush, and hundreds of demonstrators were already gathered at Union Square Park, about 15 blocks south of the convention site, Madison Square Garden.
“The evidence shows that the city told defendants that they would not be released until George Bush went home,” said Dan Alterman of the National Lawyers Guild.
The New York Police Department denied the charge.
“The allegations that the NYPD was purposely holding demonstrators until after the president of the United States left New York City was part of a deliberate misinformation campaign,” police spokesman Paul Browne said.
City lawyer tries to comply
City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo earlier tried in vain to convince the judge that the city was trying desperately to comply with his wishes.
“We can’t just open the jails of the city of New York and let everybody out,” Cardozo said. “We’re not trying to flout your honor’s order. ... We’re doing everything humanly possible.”
More than 1,700 convention protesters have been arrested since last week — nearly 1,200 of them on Tuesday during a long-planned day of mass civil disobedience.
The judge’s decision was hailed by attorneys for the demonstrators.
“They have to release them right now,” said veteran civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. “The judge, to his credit, said, ‘Enough.”’
About 50 of the prisoners had started a hunger strike Thursday to protest their extended time behind bars while awaiting arraignment. They were turning down the sandwiches and milk served three times a day until everyone was freed.
19 AIDS activists arrested
Earlier Thursday, dozens of demonstrators waving banners and carrying balloons called on Bush to do more in the fight against AIDS during a quick and choreographed protest amid morning commuters at Grand Central Terminal.
The demonstrators wore black T-shirts, some emblazoned with the words: “If Bush had AIDS what would he do?” Police arrested 19 people when they refused to leave the terminal’s vast concourse, and many chanted “Fight AIDS, not war” as police took them away.Slideshow: New York protests
Related arrests for the week numbered more than 1,700 as Bush prepared to accept the party’s nomination and set forth an agenda for a second term.
A man strode into the middle of Grand Central shortly after 8 a.m. and blew a whistle, signaling 100 other demonstrators to pour into the main hall from various entrances and ticket lines. Almost simultaneously, demonstrators positioned on staircases on either side of the concourse unfurled banners that read: “America has AIDS. Our next president must stop the plague.”
On Wednesday, police arrested about 20 people during a series of orderly demonstrations. A labor protest featured a symbolic “unemployment line,” and the National Organization for Women conducted a peaceful rally in Central Park.
Wednesday night at the Garden, security officials carried away a shouting woman, wearing a pink slip-dress scrawled with the words “Fire Cheney.” The incident prompted Vice President Dick Cheney to stop speaking for several minutes. Two guards were posted in that area of the floor for the rest of the night.
Also taken into custody on Wednesday were a dozen whistle-blowing AIDS activists who infiltrated the Garden during a gathering of young Republicans.
Cheers and scuffles
A scuffle broke out, and one young Republican suffered a cut near his temple. A demonstrator, with authorities grabbing her knees and shoulders, was carried off the floor to cheers.
Those arrested are being held at a Manhattan facility to await processing from Tuesday’s wave of arrests, which totaled more than 1,187. Police spokesman Paul Browne said accusations of mistreatment at the facility were untrue.
Veteran activist Tom Hayden told reporters outside the holding facility, “I’m here to congratulate and applaud the demonstrators and ask those who are the purveyors of fear to apologize.” Hayden was one of the Chicago Seven, activists indicted in connection with protests at the Democratic convention there in 1968.
Complaints of police treatment
Advocates have complained that those arrested have been held for too long, though Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said most had been going through the holding facility in about 90 minutes and asserted that no one was held longer than eight hours.
While most of the New York protests were peaceful, activist attorney Leonard Weinglass suggested police had changed their tactics.
“We no longer have the spectacle of police officers beating down protesters in front of the cameras,” Leonard said. “But you do have more subtle forms of repression, as represented by this building.”
MSNBC.com's Gary Seidman, MSNBC's John Zito, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.