ABC News’ Jennifer Duck and Lindsey Ellerson Report: Police arrested hundreds of anti-war protesters outside of the Republican convention hall Thursday night in St. Paul. Over 1,000 demonstrators marched from the State Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where tens of the thousands of Republican delegates and party elite gathered to hear Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech.
Police in riot gear swarmed the area outside the convention center, deploying tear gas and distraction devices known as "flash bangs" in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
Approximately three-hundred protesters were held on the bridge for nearly an hour over Interstate 94 in St. Paul. After hours of people protesting, police instructed demonstrators to file onto the bridge and then announced everyone would be arrested, refusing to allow anyone off the overpass. Law enforcement barricading the bridge fired pepper spray, instructing protesters to put their hands behind their heads.
ABC News’ Jennifer Duck was trapped with the marchers on the bridge and observed many young children scared and crying. She spoke to several marchers who said they wanted to go home, but the police refused to allow any movement. Members of the media, and many trying to follow police direction were being pepper sprayed in the face.
One policeman told ABC News that a firearm was confiscated from a protester on the bridge and that people were throwing rocks.
The RNC’s Joint Information Center told ABC News that 88 arrests have been made on Thursday thus far, but more than 200 demonstrators are on their way now to Ramsey County Jail to be detained.
At least some of the protesters were part of the Anti-War Committee, who organized an afternoon rally on the capitol, followed by a march to the Xcel Energy Center, where the RNC is being held. At 5pm central, the protesters’ permit expired, but demonstrators refused to leave. The crowd of nearly 700 stood at a standstill with the police as they tried to march from the capitol to the Xcel Center without success. The protesters, chanting, "Let us march!" and "No blood for oil, U.S. off Iraqi soil!" were non-violent in their actions. At one point, approximately 100 people sat down in the middle of the street, in front of more than two-dozen officers on horses, making the peace sign with their hands and singing the star spangled banner.
"Protesters felt that tonight was an important night to demonstrate in St. Paul. The eyes of the world are on John McCain tonight," said Meredith Aby of the Anti-War Committee in a statement to the press. "We felt it was imperative that his message of war did not go unchallenged. The police and the city of St. Paul decided to make downtown a Republican speech zone, but our demonstration challenged their decision."
Since the Republican National Convention began, there have been several riots in St. Paul and Minneapolis, protesting the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies. The most disruptive protest took place on Monday, when violence broke out at a rally organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War. It was estimated that 8,000-10,000 people were present and more than 280 demonstrators were arrested.