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SLOC protects protest zones

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Noting that free speech is a "fundamental right" of U.S. citizenship, Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the protest zones inside Olympic Square will remain despite any changes organizers make to security plans.

Romney made the announcement after discussing security issues earlier in the day with members of the International Olympic Committee, which is meeting this week in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"There are a number of things I think you have to have with an Olympic Games, and the things you have to have we're not going to change," Romney said. "Protest and right of free speech is a fundamental right of citizenship in this county. It's something we have to have regardless of what happened on Sept. 11."

In July, SLOC officials, the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command and Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson agreed that two protest zones, accommodating 10 people each, would be established inside Olympic Square. Three larger protest zones, holding another 150 protesters, will be created on the square's outskirts in downtown Salt Lake City.

SLOC, UOPSC and the mayor's office are re-examining safety issues in light of terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center's twin towers and damaged the Pentagon. But after speaking with the IOC, Romney was clear that the protest zones wouldn't be part of those re-examinations.

"We must plan for full protest opportunities for people in and around the Games and that's something which proceeds, and we do not anticipate curtailing protest capability," Romney said. "We don't plan on changing the current plan or restricting it."

Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers said SLOC and UOPSC haven't discussed the protest zones since last week's terrorist attacks. "In my opinion that's premature," Flowers said of Romney's remarks.

Still, Flowers said he doesn't expect many changes in the protest-zone plan.

UOPSC officials planned to meet behind closed doors Thursday to discuss a variety of Olympic security issues, which could include protest zones, Flowers said.

The mayor's office similarly isn't positive that the protest zones won't change. If UOPSC leaders ask for alterations, city officials will likely comply, Joshua Ewing, spokesman for the mayor's office said.

"I think its unlikely that we will change our plans," Ewing said, "but we don't want to rule out the possibility."

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com