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Philadelphia Allows Protest Venue to Reopen

by Reuters Sunday, Jul. 23, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Amid a sudden escalation of tensions between the city and protest organizers sparked by the shutdown, Mayor John Street interceded on behalf of the downtown Spiral Q Puppet Theater and ordered the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to allow it to reopen.

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A puppet theater used as a staging site for protests at the Republican National Convention was due to reopen on Saturday, a day after it was closed for alleged fire code violations, officials said.

Amid a sudden escalation of tensions between the city and protest organizers sparked by the shutdown, Mayor John Street interceded on behalf of the downtown Spiral Q Puppet Theater and ordered the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to allow it to reopen.

``We are trying to dispel the notion that the city doesn't want the protesters,'' said a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. ``We're rolling out the red carpet to them as well as to the Republicans. This is the cradle of liberty. We're not trying to shut them down.''

The Republican convention, which will nominate Texas Gov. George W. Bush (news - web sites) as the party's presidential candidate, will bring 45,000 delegates, guests and journalists to Philadelphia for a program that runs July 31 to Aug. 3.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, representing causes ranging from environmental protection and AIDS research to women's rights and social justice, also are due in Philadelphia 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.

The downtown puppet theater was being used by two local groups, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and Asian-Americans United, to make puppets and banners for a march set for the opening day of the convention, organizers said.

Safety inspectors said the shutdown was ordered on Friday because of several fire code violations including an electrical extension cord that had been strung between floors, the presence of a propane tank used to heat glue and a defective fire-alarm system.

Protest organizers condemned the action as a preemptive strike intended to intimidate demonstrators, similar to a police move against protesters in Washington on the eve of demonstrations against the World Bank last April.

The mayor's office said the theater had been ordered reopened despite those infractions.

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