by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Saturday April 19, 2008, 9:53 PM
The New Orleans Police Department is gearing up for an unknown number of protesters expected to arrive in the city this weekend to decry federal trade and security policies, as President Bush holds a two-day summit with leaders of Canada and Mexico to discuss economic and security issues among the three countries.
Starting on Sunday, the NOPD will switch to 12-hour shifts, which will help divert some officers from districts around the city to the Central Business District area, said Assistant Superintendent Marlon Defillo. Those shifts will last through Tuesday.
Security will be tightest around Gallier Hall, as well as around the Central Business District hotels where the North American leaders and their entourages will be staying. The security measures will include extensive street closures in the CBD that start on Sunday afternoon, Defillo said.
While the NOPD has been gearing up for potentially huge crowds, they don't expect a "gigantic" turnout of protesters, department officials said.
"We are prepared for the worst-case scenario," said Superintendent Warren Riley, who will be supported by the State Police and National Guard. "At this point we are not overly concerned."
Since Bush announced in his State of Union address that he would be holding the latest round of talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in New Orleans, the NOPD began preparing for security with Secret Service, Defillo said. Trade talks among the leaders have consistently drawn protests of several hundred people, including in August in Quebec.
Defillo said officials looked at the security for the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, which sparked not only large protest rallies, but also civil disobedience that disrupted talks and led to hundreds of arrests.
"We certainly don't object to people protesting, if it is a peaceful assembly," he said. Internet sites for various groups show several plans for protests, including one expected to assemble in Jackson Square on Monday about 8 a.m.
Jim Stachowiak, whose Freedom Fighter Radio Web site and Internet radio show has been touting the Monday gathering, said he expects a few hundred people to come to New Orleans to protest peacefully. They plan to rally against the Iraq war and against the talks among the North American leaders, which Stachowiak said many believe are a pretext to forming a continental government similar to the European Union.
Several left-leaning organizations have organized what they are calling a "People's Summit" that will kick off Sunday in Central City with theater demonstrations scheduled to include skits by Latino laborers, homeless residents of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina survivors, said Mayaba Liebenthal, the local chapter organizer for Critical Resistance New Orleans.
Workshops will be held Monday and Tuesday around the city, talking about the impact of trade agreements on average people and the disadvantages of privatization, Liebenthal said.
Laura Maggi can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3316.