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N.Y. firefighters charged after protest turns violent

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Manhattan district attorney filed charges early Saturday against 10 people arrested when a protest by New York firefighters rallying against the city's scaled-back World Trade Center recovery effort turned violent Friday.

Several protesting firefighters "flipped over" barricades near the trade center disaster site in lower Manhattan and punched police officers, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said.

Eleven active firefighters, including two representatives of the union that organized the rally, were among 12 people arrested.

Among the charges filed Saturday were inciting a riot, assault, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration, a spokesman for the New York Police Department said.

All of the charges were misdemeanors, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said, with most tagged with third-degree criminal trespass charges, punishable by up to three months in jail. All 10 of those charged were either active or retired firefighters, she said. The cases were adjourned until December 18, when those charged will face a judge, she said.

"The part I will not tolerate is people violating the law, whether you are the mayor, a policeman, fireman or ordinary citizen," Mayor Rudy Giuliani said. "You don't get to punch New York City police officers. For that you go to jail."

Fire commissioner apologizes

The fracas underscored how deeply firefighters feel about their lost colleagues. Some 343 firefighters are thought to have died in the September 11 attacks; 12 of their bodies have been recovered. As of Friday, 3,923 presumed victims were missing, and another 547 were confirmed dead.

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Hundreds of firefighters took part in Friday's rally, which the Uniformed Firefighters Association organized to protest Giuliani's decision to reduce the number of firefighters assisting in the recovery to 24, down from 300 three weeks ago.

Union officials said the scaling back was economically motivated and means "all debris, including remains, would be shipped to the Fresh Kills Landfill" on Staten Island. City officials said safety concerns prompted the move, with Giuliani citing several near misses and calling the scene a disaster waiting to happen.

"There [are] tons of debris down there, the likes of which have never been seen," said Fire Chief Brian Dixon. "To maintain safety, we needed to limit the number of firefighters working on the site."

Roughly 100 uniformed personnel, including firefighters and city and Port Authority police, remain working on the site. Heavy-equipment operators Friday dug through below-ground staircases, where experts believe large numbers of victims may have been trapped.

Staffing at the disaster site is an emotional issue, Dixon admitted, but he criticized union statements that the scaling back meant less respect for victims.

"Recovery teams treat the victims with respect," he said. "We halt operations, drape them with an American flag and give them the dignity they deserve. We will continue to do so and have enough personnel on-site to assist."

Fire Comissioner Thomas Von Essen apologized on behalf of his department to the police officers injured in the scuffle Friday. Firefighters and police "have been brothers in this tragedy from Day One," he said.


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