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The New York Civil Liberties Union filed three federal lawsuits Wednesday claiming the city’s police tactics during protests are unconstitutional and will hinder the right to demonstrate during next year’s Republican National Convention. The NYCLU based the lawsuits on a Feb. 15 anti-war rally that drew tens of thousands of people. The group says police blocked demonstrators’ access to the protest in some areas and controlled crowds with unnecessary force. During that rally, which stretched for 20 blocks along First Avenue, police cordoned off side streets, and many protesters complained that officers in riot gear and on horseback prevented them from reaching the rally. The NYCLU sued on behalf of three demonstrators, including a 60-year-old diabetic woman who uses a wheelchair, who claim police unfairly confined them during the February demonstration. “Each of these cases is an example of a serious problem in policing policies, which will have an impact on the freedom to demonstrate at the Republican National Convention,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. Groups began planning demonstrations months ago for the four-day convention that begins next Aug. 30 at Madison Square Garden. Thousands of demonstrators are expected. Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city law department, said she could not comment because she had not seen the court papers. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it’s department policy not to discuss pending litigation. He said police are gearing up to make sure the convention goes off without a hitch and everyone is kept safe. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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