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Sunday, March 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police, protesters clash; 18 arrests in Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporters

Ongoing war protests grew heated and defiant in downtown Seattle yesterday as demonstrators attempted to shut down the city in a free-form march that thick columns of police struggled to contain.

At least 18 people were arrested and traffic was disrupted for several hours as hundreds of protesters and police held tense standoffs near the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building and in Pioneer Square.

The police strategy "was very much divide and conquer," said Margo Polley, spokeswoman for the peace group Not in Our Name, which organized the march. "It certainly shut the city down better than we ever could have. The truth be known, they did our job for us."

Still, the biggest local turnout of the day was for a pro-troops rally on the Eastside, where several thousand people lined the streets near Bellevue Square for a boisterous three-hour demonstration.

Some were moms and dads of soldiers, others were just tired of protests against the war. And while organizers billed it simply as a support-the-troops rally, most participants showed their backing for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"This is shock and awe, Bellevue-style," said Mike Pittman, 49, a retired Air Force serviceman from Tacoma.

The situation in Seattle started boiling over about 3:30 p.m. as several hundred protesters, marching without a city permit and no clear route, started a planned "snake march" from an afternoon anti-war vigil at the Federal Building.

Police told marchers to stay on sidewalks, which for the most part they did, and officers appeared to divide up groups of marchers by letting one mass of people pass, then steering the next in a different direction. After about half an hour, most marchers ended up on First Avenue between Spring and Marion streets, where growing phalanxes of police on foot, bicycles and horseback boxed them in and refused to let them leave.

Protesters complained their civil rights were being violated. Some screamed at police in anger, others wept in fear.

Protester Angela Graham blamed police for creating a tense situation, saying that without such a show of force, the rally "would have been peaceful like all the other marches."

Even bystanders were prevented from leaving.

Shreenath Bishu, a tourist from Nebraska, accidentally wandered into the protest and was mortified that he couldn't get out.

"I just really want to get back home," he said.

When 50 protesters linked arms and attempted to march on First Avenue, a line of police pushed them back as they approached. Chanting "no violence," some protesters continued pushing ahead but were pressed back by police dressed in riot gear and wielding long batons, at times forcefully.

Most of yesterday's arrests were for obstruction, with one for a weapons violation. Police could not be reached last night to comment on the arrests or their strategies for controlling the crowd.

After containing the protesters for about half an hour, police let the crowd leave to the south. Some protesters returned to the Federal Building while others went to Pioneer Square, where they were again hemmed in at First Avenue South and South Jackson Street.

"This is what a police state looks like," one marcher chanted, improvising on the protest template, "This is what democracy looks like."

"This is not America!" another protester yelled.

Police moved in with a sound truck and told protesters they would be allowed to leave to the south in small groups. If they did not leave, police warned, they would be arrested.

By 8:30 p.m. at the Federal Building, the number of protesters had declined to about 40 and the number of police officers to 30. Protesters still there planned to stay at least several more hours and return in the coming days.

Organizers of seven days of protest at the Federal Building are calling for a vigil from noon to 7 p.m. today with speakers and music.

4,000 rally for troops

The Seattle protest was in startling contrast to a morning peace-and-prayer march through Fremont and Ballard and the rally in Bellevue, which Sheryl Sheaffer of Sammamish helped organize after her Army son Scott Sheaffer, 21, complained that all he was seeing was anti-war protests. Most participants came from areas to the north, south and east of Seattle, she said.

"We have disowned Seattle," said Nadine Gulit, of Issaquah, Sheryl Sheaffer's mother. "It is a lost cause."

Bellevue police estimated the rally drew at least 4,000 people. Some, like Barbara Webb, held placards with pictures of their enlisted children.

Webb said her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler Kelly, 21, was at the "tip of the spear" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and was already north of Basra heading toward Baghdad.

"I am very proud of him but scared to death," Webb said. "I wish all the anti-war protesters would put their politics aside and come together to show support for our troops."

Many at the rally made their political views about the war in Iraq clear.

"I think we should free Iraq and there should be no more dictators," said Pat Drew of Redmond. "I think it's just the beginning of our work in the Middle East. If we are successful with one country, the rest of the world will follow."

Conservative radio station KVI broadcast live from the event.

"What I love most of all is the exuberance, enthusiasm and pride people feel for their country and troops," said KVI host John Carlson, a former Republican candidate for governor. "You can see it, hear it, feel it."

Supporters drove back and forth up the street sitting atop pickups, waving flags and videotaping the event to the raucous din of blaring horns. Daniel Villanueva of Seattle, set in motion his collection of battery-powered military action figures. A large flag was hoisted into the sky on a kite.

A group of about 25 war protesters who gathered two blocks away found the celebratory atmosphere inappropriate.

"I am mystified at how we could celebrate such a profound moment in history," said Mary Ann Woodruff of Bellevue. "It makes me cry."

Seattle Times reporters Young Chang, J.J. Jensen, Peter Lewis, Leslie Fulbright, Julia Sommerfeld, Janet I. Tu and Rachel Tuinstra contributed to this report.

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