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Outrage in Philadelphia! Philadelphia police shut down protest venue.

by By David Morgan (Reuters) Sunday, Jul. 23, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The Philadelphia police have violated basic civil rights by shutting down an R2k organizing space. This is obviously a tactic that the police are taking from the DC protest and will likely use in August.



PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - With the Republican National Convention barely

a

week away, tensions between the city and protest organizers escalated on

Friday when building safety inspectors closed one of the protesters'

downtown

meeting venues.

Activists also claimed to find electronic listening devices in a group

home,

hours after city police admitted they had been keeping protest

organizers

under surveillance for weeks.

``We're outraged, we're angry and we're going to talk about it. But

we're not

panicking,'' said Julie Davids, a member of the Philadelphia Direct

Action

Group, a coalition planning civil disobedience protests for the July 31

to

Aug. 3 convention.

Members of the Spiral Q Puppet Theater said inspectors from the city

Department of Licenses and Inspections showed up at their premises with

police around 1 p.m. EDT and ordered them to close because of potential

fire

hazards.

Activists from two local groups, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and

Asian-Americans United, were using the theater as a venue for making

puppets

and banners for a protest march set to take place on opening day of the

convention, organizers said.

There was no immediate comment from city officials and no arrests were

reported.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was looking into

claims

that listening devices were found after a burglary at an activist group

home

in West Philadelphia, where unidentified men had earlier been seen

photographing residents.

ACLU legal director Stefan Presser said he would find out if a court had

ordered audio surveillance. ``If not, I will take this matter and put it

before a federal judge,'' he told reporters.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, representing causes ranging from

environmental protection and AIDS research to women's rights and social

justice, are due in Philadelphia next weekend for what organizers say

could

be the largest protests seen at a U.S. political convention.

But Philadelphia officials worry that protest violence could hamper the

city's ability to showcase its economic and cultural renaissance after

decades of decline.

City police on Friday admitted that they have been keeping protest

organizers

under surveillance by photographing activists as they arrived for

planning

sessions in another part of the city. A half-dozen such incidents have

been

reported.

``We were watching. We were making surveillance efforts. It's just

prudent

preparations for anything,'' said Officer David Yarnell, a department

spokesman. ``There are people who may do more than exercise their First

Amendment rights.''

The raid on the puppet theater took place as protest leaders met with

senior

city officials, including the deputy commissioner in charge of policing

the

convention, to ask that out-of-town demonstrators be allowed to camp out

in

city parks.

Theater members said city inspectors complained of potential fire

hazards

posed by a propane tank, an extension cord that ran between two floors

and

the lack of an on-site

fire safety system.

But organizers condemned the shutdown as a preemptive strike by city

authorities intended to dissuade demonstrators from plans to disrupt the

Republican convention.
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