NEW YORK - Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators toting colorful banners and shouting "no more Bush" took to Manhattan's streets on Sunday, the day before the Republican convention opens, to decry the Iraq war and President Bush's policies.
Organizers estimated 400,000 people turned out for the march, which led to more than 100 arrests and yielded at least one skirmish between self-styled anarchists and police. More than 400 people have been arrested in protests since Thursday.
A crowd fills a Manhattan avenue during a protest march leading to the Republican National Convention site, sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, in New York, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2004. (AP Photo/Greg Bull)
Chanting "Hey Ho, Bush Has Got to Go," the largely peaceful crowd marched past the Madison Square Garden convention site as Republicans and visitors arrived in the city for a four-day event where Bush will be nominated for another four-year term.
Police declined to estimate the size of the crowd but it stretched out more than a mile down one of the city's main thoroughfares. Thousands of police -- many clad in riot gear, some on bicycles and others on horseback -- turned out to control the crowd, who carried signs saying "Osama Loves Bush," "Bush Lies Who Dies?" and "Hate is not a Family Value."
A small group of masked anarchists set fire to a float just one block from the convention site and hurled bottles at police in riot gear who rushed them and made 11 arrests, police said.
March organizer Leslie Cagan told Reuters that despite some minor clashes, "The march has gone very, very well."
"People have come to protest the Bush administration on very many issues, but today we were united in speaking out against the Bush agenda," she said.
The march had a carnival atmosphere, with people carrying large banners, shouting "no more Bush" and beating drums as police helicopters overhead kept watch. The heat and humidity pushed the temperature to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius).
Many held banners opposing the war in Iraq. The Bush administration said it invaded Iraq to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction that threatened America's security, but no stockpiles of weapons have been found.
"He (Bush) is ruining the country that I knew as a child growing up," said Joan Azulay, a retiree from Austin, Texas, who complained of the president's policies on health care, the environment, taxes and foreign affairs.
One group carried 1,000 coffins as a tribute to American soldiers dead in Iraq and to highlight what they see as the true cost of the war there.
The circular route took marchers through central Manhattan and hundreds of activists defied a ban on rallying in Central Park, the city's largest open space. Protesters were denied a permit to gather in Central Park following the march on the grounds city officials feared damage to the grass. Organizers instead urged people to make their way to the park for a "people's picnic."
Hundreds of people lay on the grass in the park and formed a massive human peace sign.
A crowd fills a Manhattan avenue during a protest march leading up to the Republican National Convention site sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, in New York, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2004. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta )
"I just burning with anger about what our country is doing," said Cornelius Boss, an ex-Marine from Columbus, Ohio, about Bush's foreign policy.
Organizers and a series of prominent speakers, including civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, film maker Michael Moore and some New York elected officials, boosted the protesters with speeches before the start of the event.
Security around the arena has been called the tightest in the history of U.S. political events, with thousands of police officers and Secret Service agents on guard.
Streets were closed and concrete barriers put in place to deter truck bombs amid warnings from Washington that al Qaeda -- the group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- or others might attack America before the November election.
Sunday's march took place as an estimated 50,000 visitors were arriving in New York for the four-day convention to nominate Bush for a second White House term. He will face Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in the election.
Additional reporting by Christine Kearney, Larry Fine and Mark McSherry
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