Police make arrests prior to ag protests

Saturday, May 17, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Police stepped up security Friday prior to planned agricultural protests on Sunday, making arrests in condemned buildings, confiscating items similar to those used in violent protests and angering those who planned peaceful actions.

St. Louis police chief Joe Mokwa said law enforcement searched condemned buildings Friday, arrested 15 people on occupancy violations and confiscated items known to be used when protests turn violent, such as roofing nails, combustible items, a slingshot and a bag of rocks.

Mokwa said the department received information from residents and officers about strangers congregating in buildings.

He did not say those arrested were planning to protest, but explained, "We know in the past, demonstrators who are violent do occupy these types of buildings."

Two agricultural forums are in St. Louis this weekend.

Up to 400 scientists, ag experts, educators and farmers are expected at the World Agricultural Forum's 2003 World Congress, the three-day forum that begins Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The St. Louis Green Party and the Gateway Green Alliance are hosting "Biodevastation 7" that started Friday, their own three-day conference that brings together up to 300 opponents of genetic engineering and biotechnology.

On Sunday, the Biodevastation 7 participants and perhaps hundreds of other protesters plan to demonstrate outside the World Ag Forum, which protest organizers are targeting because they believe it is weighted in favor of genetic engineering.

A Biodevastation 7 organizer Don Fitz said, "We've been working on a conference about the dangers of bioengineered food. It appears there's a concerted effort to divert attention away from the conference we're having."

He said the Green Party office was repairing its roof, which could account for the roofing nails, and he was still trying to figure out who was arrested.

Fitz said the group planned an educational conference. "I think the police have a lot more to worry about from a spring break or a homecoming event."

Police said legal protesting will be allowed in a park downtown.

Extra security was installed, including concrete barriers near police headquarters and windows boarded up at the main post office downtown.

Police here also consulted with Seattle police about the 1999 protests that disrupted the World Trade Organization's meeting, when an estimated 50,000 demonstrators overwhelmed 400 officers, smashing windows and vandalizing cars. Police fought back with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Neither World Agricultural Forum organizers nor Biodevastation 7 organizers expect that to happen here.

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