NATO Blog Day 3: Anti War March And Rally End With Confrontations

After all the planning, platitudes and protest, the NATO summit officially gets under way Sunday at McCormick Place, with President Barack Obama and fellow Western military alliance leaders charting the wind-down of involvement in Afghanistan and demonstrators demanding an immediate end.

Thousands of war protesters are expected to rally at Petrillo Music Shell, then march to the edge of McCormick Place, roughly paralleling the same route that just a week later police will free up for thousands of cycling enthusiasts during the annual Bike the Drive event.

Authorities on Saturday released details about the terrorism related arrests of three out-of-state men at a Bridgeport apartment last week, alleging they were "self-proclaimed anarchists" who planned to use Molotov cocktails and other weapons to hit police stations, the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama's downtown re-election headquarters.

A Cook County judge ordered the trio held on $1.5 million bail each, and their legal plight quickly offered a new rallying point for protesters who dubbed them the "NATO 3," playing off the Chicago 7 moniker hung on protest leaders arrested for activities at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

An impromptu and unauthorized march of several hundred demonstrators proclaiming solidarity with the three snaked its way around the Loop Saturday afternoon, with police escorts on foot, bicycles and horseback intervening at strategic points to contain the path south of the Chicago River. As darkness fell, the marchers continued to wend their way around downtown.

Despite a lack of permits, police also allowed other demonstrations on the North Side, where a few hundred marchers, some wearing hospital gowns, paraded in front of Emanuel's house in the Ravenswood neighborhood to protest mental health facility cuts. Later, they joined up with another group of anti-NATO protesters and paraded through nearby streets.

Emanuel wasn't at home most of Saturday. As protesters gathered outside his house, the mayor was at Hotel Sax attending a meeting for the Young Atlanticist, an organization that identifies the next generation of leaders.

Later, Emanuel praised the police work that led to the terrorism related charges. "The police department and the police officers did a great job," Emanuel said after attending a reception for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Saturday evening. "Don't worry about me. My focus is on the people of the city of Chicago, their safety and their security."

Protests on the street did little to deter shoppers and sightseers who thronged downtown on a glorious spring day. Many stopped to gawk and take videos of the marchers on their phones, frustrating at least one protester who identified herself only as Anonymous.

"I feel like the people that are filming us and watching us think we're ridiculous, but what they should do is join us," she said.

The inconvenience factor of the summit began to ratchet up late Saturday as motorcades of dignitaries flocking into the city from O'Hare International Airport prompted rolling tie-ups on the Kennedy Expressway. Other security-related road closures also went into effect, including Lake Shore Drive from Balbo Drive to 39th Street. From 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday, the Lake Shore Drive closures will extend north to Grand Avenue.

In addition to foreign dignitaries, also arriving was Secretary of State and Park Ridge native Hillary Rodham Clinton, who headed Saturday night for Wrigley Field for Game 2 of the Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and White Sox.

Obama arrived Saturday night, fresh from two days of meetings on economic matters at the smaller Group of 8 summit, originally scheduled for Chicago as well but moved by the president to Camp David in the Maryland mountains.

That shift may have taken some of the steam out of protests planned for Chicago, with the ire of many demonstrators focused as much on what they consider inequitable and socially destructive policies of the world's economic powers as on the military activities of NATO.

The Sunday march and rally is being organized by a group calling itself the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, suggesting it plans to emphasize a broad spectrum of grievances. Organizers have predicted they might attract as many as 10,000 demonstrators.

Andy Thayer, one of those organizers, said he and colleagues met briefly Thursday with a top NATO official and told her that "we are very aware of the immense violence and oppression that the U.S. and the U.S. in its NATO guise does to the world, and that no amount of words from her or pronouncements from the summit itself will obscure that."

Speaking to the Tribune's editorial board Saturday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he recognizes the right of protesters to express themselves but also said they were wrong in equating the military alliance to a "war machine."

"If that's the basis for the protests, it's actually based on lack of knowledge. NATO is a peace movement," said Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark.

"During more than 60 years, NATO has been the bedrock of security in Europe and North America. And thanks to NATO, we have maintained peace and stability in Europe during that long period, since the 2nd World War. It is the longest period of peace in the history of Europe. That's quite a success. That's what I call a peace movement," he said.

Citing NATO's role in helping to reunify Europe, develop new democracies after the fall of communism and develop actions to protect civilians in Libya, Rasmussen said, "It's not justified to call NATO a war machine. But again, in a free society, it's a constitutional right to express yourself — even if your statements are not justified or incorrect or inaccurate."

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