Demonstrators choked the streets Sunday in front of Madison Square Garden and delegates and supporters streamed into New York City as final preparations were made for the Republican National Convention, which opens Monday morning. Thousands of police, some dressed in riot gear and others bearing automatic weapons, watched as tens of thousands of protesters passed the convention site. Extensive as it was, the force represented only a portion of an unprecedented security deployment designed to protect the city, New Yorkers and Republicans during the convention week. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said last week the efforts would include air surveillance over the city, monitoring activity in the harbor and stationing security personnel at every hotel housing any of the 2,508 delegates or 2,344 alternates. At mid-afternoon, a small fire erupted along the protest route a half block from Madison Square Garden. Police quickly doused the flames, then handcuffed two people and led them away. Vice President Cheney campaigned his way into the convention city three days ahead of the president, praising him as "calm in a crisis, comfortable with responsibility and determined to do everything needed to protect our people." He spoke on Ellis Island, framed by a Manhattan skyline altered irrevocably by terrorism, informs USATODAY. According to Bloomberg, thousands of protesters marched past New York's Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention starts tomorrow, to show their opposition to the Iraq war and President George W. Bush. An estimated 400,000 people participated, according to the organizing group, United for Peace and Justice. Police wouldn't give a figure, said Doris Garcia, a police spokeswoman. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called them a ``sizable crowd.'' ``Tomorrow the Republican Party will meet just a few short blocks from here, and they will send their message of war and greed and hate,'' said Leslie Cagan, the protest group's national coordinator. ``We want the immediate end of the occupation and we want the troops brought home now.'' Amid concerns about terrorism, police are prepared for dozens of demonstrations this week along with an influx of 50,000 delegates, party officials and press, prompting the city's largest and most expensive security operation ever. The demonstrators marched about 2 miles through midtown Manhattan starting shortly before noon, with the last contingent stepping off almost three hours later. Those at the front included Democratic U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of New York and filmmaker Michael Moore, whose ``Fahrenheit 9/11'' documentary presented a view critical of Bush. Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of New York to condemn President Bush on the eve of the Republican convention on Sunday, but Vice President Dick Cheney praised Bush's "calm" leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Beating drums and shouting "no more Bush," a largely peaceful mile-long column of protesters marched past a heavily fortified Madison Square Garden to raise their voices against the war in Iraq and other Bush policies. Republicans, buoyed by new polls showing Bush gaining ground or slightly leading Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in their race for the White House, open their four-day convention on Monday. "All of us are gathering here this week for one reason and one reason only, and that is to make certain that George W. Bush is president for the next four years," Cheney told an Ellis Island rally on his arrival in New York, reports Reuter.
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