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Inside Politics

Protesters, police skirmish outside convention

Four arrested Friday

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Robert Dunford of the Boston Police Department talks to protest organizer Elly Guillette.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Protesters outside the Democratic National Convention skirmished briefly with police Thursday. Police reported four arrests, but not all were related to that clash.

The flare-up came on the final day of the Democratic gathering, and order was quickly restored.

Earlier, protesters burned an American flag along with a two-faced effigy of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, who is set to claim his party's presidential nomination tonight.

Crowd size was difficult to estimate, as many journalists mingled with the protesters, but the group seemed to number about 200. Only a handful clashed with police.

"The younger members of the crowd ... lost control ... They assaulted officers. We will not allow anyone to assault us," said Robert Dunsford, a Boston police superintendent.

Boston police spokesman David Estrada said four people had been arrested. Three were arrested at the protest -- one for possession of a fake incendiary device, one for assault and battery and one for disorderly conduct. Another person has been arrested for attempting to steal DNC credentials, the spokesman said

Some demonstrators banged on plastic buckets and danced in the streets, others carried signs protesting the war in Iraq and others stood in front of a line of baton-wielding police in black SWAT uniforms at the end of the street.

Throughout the convention, protesters have been confined to an area about a block from the FleetCenter. It's adjacent to where the thousands of delegates arrive by bus each afternoon, but a fence separate the protesters from the delegate area. Angry protesters have dubbed the area -- under elevated railroad tracks that are not in use -- the "pen."

"The problem is when you confine people to a really small space, there are issues," said Elly Guillette, an organizer with the Black Tea Society, which she described as an antiauthority group.

The site of the skirmish was outside that area on a city street near the FleetCenter. The protesters said they had a permit to demonstrate there.

After the skirmish, police asked Guillette to help keep the protesters' tempers in check and told her that police would not advance on the crowd.

Protesters have complained throughout the convention that their voices have effectively been silenced because their demonstrations and speeches have been confined to areas away from the convention.

"You can't just be set aside and told you have First Amendment rights," said Nancy Murray, director of the ACLU's Bill of Rights Education Project in Massachusetts. "The whole point is to have your message out."

Police, working with various federal and state agencies, have described the restrictions as necessary to keep the convention site secure.

The protesters have demonstrated for various causes during the past few days: some decried the Patriot Act, the antiterrorism law passed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that grants federal authorities stronger surveillance and investigative powers; others spoke out against the death penalty; and some protesters called for an end to the war in Iraq. All, however, seemed most angry with the designated protest site.

"Pens are for animals," read one sign on a gate.

CNN's Mike Ahlers, Jeanne Meserve and Fran Fifis contributed to this report.

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