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Saturday September 8, 2007

Thousands protest at APEC; minor scuffles but mostly peaceful


SYDNEY, Australia (AP): Police said two officers were injured Saturday and three people were arrested at a protest rally near a summit of Pacific Rim leaders. 

Police did not provide any details of the circumstances in which the injuries occurred. A police spokeswoman, who gave the information on customary condition of anonymity, said one of the officers was being treated for a head injury. 

There were no signs of widespread violence at Saturday's protest, in which about 3,000 people marched along a heavily fortified route from Sydney's Town Hall to nearby Hyde Park, several blocks from the summit site. 

Protesters had a hodgepodge of issues, from the Iraq war to gay right and global warming. Protesters waved banners emblazoned with union logos and slogans against U.S. President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. "George Bush Not Welcome,'' one placard read; and another: "End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.'' 

A group of around 10 people calling themselves "Billionaires for Bush'' dressed in evening wear and carried signs saying "Blood for Oil'' and "Clean Air, Can't Sell It, Who Needs It.'' 

Police buses blocked side streets along the march route, and hundreds of riot police lined up to keep protesters from spreading to other streets. Police officers on mountain bikes also lined the route after the city's 36 police horses were placed in quarantine last week because of a statewide outbreak of equine flu. 

Demonstrators irritated by the heavy police presence chanted "This is not a police state,'' as they moved through the streets. 

For weeks, officials expressed concern that Saturday's demonstration could degenerate into a full-scale riot after violent street protests marred a meeting last year in Melbourne for finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 leading economies. 

Protest organizers insisted they wanted only peaceful demonstrators to attend. On Friday, two people were arrested Friday after scuffles broke out with police at a protest outside a hotel where some APEC delegates are staying. 

Earlier this week, a Sydney court rejected the protesters' bid to march near a 5-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) police barricade -- dubbed "The Great Wall of APEC'' by local media -- saying it would compromise safety. 

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