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Protesters in Chicago for NATO summit gather for largest demonstration; thousands to march
CHICAGO (AP) ' Protesters gathering in Chicago for the NATO summit geared up Sunday for the largest demonstration of the weekend, as thousands are expected to march from a downtown park to the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama and other world leaders were meeting.
Hours before the main demonstration was set to start, protesters ' including peace activists, war veterans and those more focused on the economy ' began arriving at Grant Park, holding signs denouncing NATO, including ones that read: "War(equals)Debt" and "NATO, Go Home."
"I'll be walking all day and guiding all day, trying to keep tempers calm," said Sue Eleuterio, 59, of Highland, Ind., a longtime activist who plans to act as a "peace guide" by mediating problems between police and protesters. "Our goal, believe it or not, is to have a family friendly protest that is peaceful."
Organizers of Sunday's rally had initially predicted tens of thousands of protesters this weekend. But that was when the G-8 summit also was scheduled to be in Chicago. Earlier this year, Obama moved the Group of 8 economic meeting to Camp David, the secluded retreat in rural Maryland.
Chicago kept the NATO summit, which will focus on the war in Afghanistan and other international security matters, but not the economy. That left activists with the challenge of persuading groups as diverse as teachers, nurses and union laborers to show up for the Chicago protests even though the summit's main focus doesn't align with their most heart-felt issues.
"I'm here to protest NATO, which I feel is the enforcement arm of the ruling 1 percent ' of the capitalist 1 percent," said protester John Schraufnagel, 53, who took a bus from Minneapolis to Chicago and was among the first demonstrators to gather at Grant Park Sunday.
Sunday's protest followed several, smaller demonstrations the previous two days including one peaceful march to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, on Saturday. But a march later that evening involving hundreds of demonstrators 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.
Increasingly tense clashes Saturday night tested police who used bicycles to barricade off streets and horseback officers to coax them in different directions. Eighteen people were arrested, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
McCarthy said police would be ready with quick but targeted arrests of any demonstrators who turn violent 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. "We're not going to charge the crowd wholesale ' that's the bottom line."
Security has been tight throughout the city. 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.
"It's strange because downtown is empty," said Gabe Labovitz, a 44-year-old economist out for a walk near his home. "The police presence is reassuring but unnerving."
Three activists who traveled to Chicago for the summit were accused Saturday of manufacturing Molotov cocktails in a plot to attack Obama's campaign headquarters, Emanuel's home and other targets. But defense lawyers argued that the police had trumped up the charges to frighten peaceful protesters away. They told a judge it was undercover officers who brought the firebombs to an apartment in Chicago's South Side where the men were arrested.
On Sunday, police said a Chicago man also was in custody after being accused of planning to make a Molotov cocktail to be used during the NATO summit. Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, was charged with one felony count of terrorism/making a false threat. He was scheduled to appear in court later Sunday.
Police said Senakiewicz was working with others to produce explosives to be used during the NATO summit. A call to the National Lawyers Guild was not immediately returned, and it was unclear if his arrest was related to the other three men.
Associated Press writers Michael Tarm, Robert Ray, Carla K. Johnson, Sophia Tareen and Jim Suhr also contributed to this report.