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Activists and police gear up for forum

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NEW YORK — With the World Economic Forum starting Thursday just a few miles from ground zero, anti-globalization protesters say they aren't planning any violence — instead relying on 15-foot-tall puppets and a kick-line of dancers to try to convey their message peacefully.

The carnival-like atmosphere the activists hope to create is meant to show that protesting can be fun — unlike the riots that have plagued recent mass demonstrations in places like Seattle, Genoa, Italy, and Quebec City, Canada.

"We're respectful of what New York has been through. We live here, too," says Eric Laursen, an activist with the umbrella protest group Another World Is Possible. "We're trying to be very visual and colorful and emphasize events that aren't violent in any way."

Still, protest organizers admit they have little control over fringe groups or individuals who may engage in violence — and police aren't taking any chances.

New York's police department will be out in force, working 12-hour shifts — 4,000 of them around the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the business and political leaders will be meeting through Monday.

Authorities are anxious to avoid a repeat of last year's World Economic Forum, which was held in its normal location of Davos, Switzerland. There, protesters angry that authorities kept them from getting near the conference site smashed windows, burned cars and clashed with police.

In preparation for this year's forum, officers in riot gear rehearsed crowd-control techniques at Shea Stadium. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent staff for consultations with authorities in Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa.

Police have granted permits to some protest groups, allowing them to demonstrate in designated areas. But otherwise, authorities have vowed to clamp down on any sort of illegal behavior, saying they would enforce an 1845 state law barring groups of demonstrators from wearing masks.

The law appears aimed at radical anarchist protesters who often wear black masks or scarves during demonstrations. In past protests, it was primarily anarchists who smashed windows or sprayed graffiti — acts that other protesters condemned.

David Graeber, a Yale anthropology professor and member of the anarchist group Anti-Capitalist Convergence, says his group plans no violence — although many anarchists believe vandalism isn't violence if it doesn't hurt anyone.

It is likely, though, that they may engage in "civil disobedience" to disrupt the meetings, such as forming human blockades outside the hotel, Graeber said.

"We're not going to break anyone's heads," he said. "It's up to the police whether there's violence. If they attack us, they're the ones being violent."

That's a sentiment shared by protesters from many other groups. News of the heavy police presence — and the heightened security since the terrorist attacks — has made activists worried that police may be rough with them.

"For weeks, the police have been training in riot tactics," said activist Brooke Lehman. "We've been training in samba, puppetry and street theater."

The biggest demonstrations are expected Saturday, when two major protest groups plan successive rallies on Park Avenue near the Waldorf.

Another World Is Possible plans to show up with huge papier-mache and cardboard figures and symbols. One will be a 15-foot tall sun that will be shielded by clouds emblazoned with the words "globalization" and "militarization."

"We're not against a globalized economy," explains Brian Becker, spokesman for International ANSWER, the other group, which espouses socialist and anti-war views. "We're against the effect of corporate globalization that enriches a small number at the expense of many."

The protesters' complaints appear to be getting through to the World Economic Forum, though. Organizers have scheduled two seminars focusing on the anti-globalization movement.

But activists point out that none of the panelists represent groups considered part of the anti-global movement.

Also, they say that several key representatives of non-governmental organizations critical of the forum who were invited in previous years have not been invited back.

Charles McLean, the forum spokesman, said the forum included more than 100 non-governmental organizations this year. The anti-globalization agenda, he said, "is basically antibusiness."

"The reality inside our meetings is an amazing collaborative effort of major sectors of society to help create a better world," McLean said. "But they don't want to believe it."