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Police on alert, monitoring protests on convention’s closing day

Although some downtown St. Paul businesses were telling employees to go home early Thursday afternoon, officials said they have not asked anyone to close up or even suggested leaving the downtown area.

A spokesperson at the Joint Information Center, manned by local, state and federal law enforcement, said some business managers have alerted employees about the possible protest activities, but there have been no officially required closures or evacuations.

Protesters have a day-long permit for an event at Ecolab Plaza, at Wabasha and 5th Streets, several blocks from the RNC events at the Xcel Center.

Another permit has been issued to Youth Against the War and Racism for a large gathering and march at the State Capitol grounds from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; another group supporting welfare rights has also been issued for the Capitol grounds until 7 p.m. Marches down the hill to Xcel could result from either gathering.

St. Paul police issued parade/march permits for downtown to an Anti-War committee, valid until 5 p.m., but there are reports that the march could go beyond that time.

Earlier in the day, police said they are on alert for further violence or disruptions today, as the GOP convention finishes up tonight with Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech.

Several hundred anarchists remain in town, police said.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington also said there’d been calls for high school students to walk out of class today as a form of protest. “That’s a bad idea on all levels,” he said.

School spokesman Howie Padilla said that about 40 students participated in the walkout.

Wednesday was a relatively quiet day in St. Paul in the ongoing skirmishes between police and troublemakers. But 102 people were arrested in Minneapolis in the early morning hours Thursday following a concert at Target Center. Almost all of those arrested were charged with misdemeanors when police tried to disband the group blocking traffic.

The concert, by the band Rage Against the Machine, let out about 10:30 p.m. into a busy downtown scene, said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. “There were delegate events across the street, so we were very worried about that. It was a recipe for a perfect storm,” Dolan said Thursday morning.

Most of those were booked and released; about 15 remained in custody, most because they weren’t giving identification, he said.

“The bottom line was, they wanted to be arrested, so it was basically uneventful for us,” Dolan said “They were rambunctious, but not damaging property or assaulting anyone.” He said tear gas was not used, although some officers may have used pepper spray.

Inside the Xcel Energy Center Wednesday night, two hecklers were escorted from the arena, in a scene captured by some of the network television coverage.

Harrington said they were members of the anti-war group Code Pink. They’d apparently obtained legitimate credentials to enter the arena, but those credentials were revoked and St. Paul police escorted them from the building. They were not arrested.

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