You are here

Cleveland on security knife edge for US Republican convention

Monday, July 18, 2016 - 06:56
39111499 - 18_07_2016 - US-DEMONSTRATORS-PROTEST-AHEAD-OF-MONDAY'S-START-OF-THE-2016-REP.jpg
Cleveland deployed overwhelming security on Sunday, bracing for possible unrest as delegates poured into town for the Republican National Convention that will anoint Donald Trump as the party's US presidential nominee.

[CLEVELAND] Cleveland deployed overwhelming security on Sunday, bracing for possible unrest as delegates poured into town for the Republican National Convention that will anoint Donald Trump as the party's US presidential nominee.

The killing of three police officers Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana only added to the tensions in Cleveland, where law enforcement agencies have thrown a ring of steel around downtown and anti-Trump demonstrators began marching toward the convention site.

President Barack Obama urged calm.

"I know we're about to enter a couple of weeks of conventions where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual," he told reporters at the White House.

"And that is why it is so important that everyone... right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further. We don't need inflammatory rhetoric. We don't need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda."

Authorities have erected 2.5m metal fencing around Quicken Loans Arena, closed off streets and deployed thousands of armed police officers.

The four-day political jamboree, which begins on Monday, will see the bombastic billionaire secure the nomination for the Party of Lincoln after a thumping primary victory that confounded the US establishment.

Roads in the Ohio city are lined with concrete barriers and helicopters patrol overhead, as light aircraft, paid for by sponsors, trail anti-Hillary Clinton slogans.

Law enforcement is on edge, braced for protests by demonstrators enraged by Trump's divisive presidential campaign and preparing for the worst after anti-police violence erupted in Louisiana.

"We are TRYING to fight ISIS (the so-called Islamic State extremist group), and now our own people are killing our police," Mr Trump tweeted shortly after the shooting.

"Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching."

He later posted a more tempered message on Facebook.

US authorities have been on alert since a gunman intent on killing white policemen went on a rampage and shot five Dallas officers dead earlier this month.

Cleveland, a Midwestern city of nearly 400,000, has taken out US$50 million in protest insurance, and Ohio's open-carry law that allows people with proper permits to carry a loaded weapon on the streets, has inflamed fears of violence.

"We have policies in place for mass arrests through our prosecutor's office, our clerk's office and our court system," Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams told reporters.

Mr Williams said barricades had also been erected downtown to thwart any potential terror attack after a truck bomber killed 84 people in the French city of Nice on Thursday.

"We use blocking vehicles, we use concrete barriers and things like that at positions that we think may be vulnerable to attacks like that which happened in Nice," he said.

Mr Trump, a New York tycoon who has never held elected office and who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, vowed in his latest interview to wage war against IS.

"We're going to declare war against ISIS. We have to wipe out ISIS," he told CBS in excerpts aired on the eve of the convention, which will culminate with a Trump speech accepting the nomination on Thursday.

Mr Trump made the remarks in his first joint interview with his pick for vice-president, Indiana's conservative governor Mike Pence, an evangelical Catholic.

Mr Trump's choice of Pence, announced on Friday, has been welcomed by 61 percent of Republicans and conservatives in critical battlegrounds, states likely to decide the November election, according to a CBS News poll.

The survey found that these voters believe Mr Pence brings stability to the ticket and will boost Trump's chances of defeating Clinton. Mr Pence, however, is not well known beyond the party rank and file.

Mr Trump faces a herculean task to win over legions of critics.

His salty rhetoric and populist message have outraged many conservatives, raising fears he has fanned a racial backlash and prompting a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

Unusually, the Cleveland convention features no former presidents, few party luminaries and only a smattering of elected officials. Instead, it is expected to hand a starring role to Mr Trump's family to make his case.

The first major anti-Trump protest kicked off Sunday, drawing about 200 demonstrators .

"There is a real tension at the moment in the city and in Ohio in general," said student Charlie Michel, 22.

"We are rejecting the invasion of the GOP and their racist ideology." Another "Stop Trump" march has been permitted by the city for noon on Monday, just hours before the convention opens.

The US homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, told Congress last week that he was concerned about demonstrations getting out of hand.

"We have absolutely no idea what to predict," said Shanna Merola, who works for the National Lawyers Guild, which is training volunteer observers to monitor interactions between police and protesters.

IT engineer Steve Thacker, 57, slung his AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle over his shoulder as he spoke to reporters about the need to protect gun rights enshrined in the US Constitution.

US political conventions, quadrennial affairs, are designed to bring a party together, formally select its presidential nominee and catapult the candidate and party toward November's election.

AFP