* Only incident is scuffle over NATO banner
* Mood at downtown rally mostly festive, few arrests
(Adds scuffle between police, protesters)
By Ann Saphir and Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, May 18 Thousands of people protested
loudly but peacefully under the watchful eye of police at a
downtown Chicago plaza on Friday, chanting mostly about economic
issues that have little to do with the summit of the NATO
military alliance this weekend.
Police estimated about 2,500 people took part in the largest
protest so far in a week of demonstrations before President
Barack Obama and representatives from some 60 countries arrive
for the two-day summit to discuss the war in Afghanistan and
other international security issues.
The only incident was a minor scuffle between police and
protesters when a man climbed a bridge tower to rip down a
banner advertising the NATO summit.
"Wake up! Wake up! We want freedom, freedom! Tell those
dirty-assed bankers we don't need 'em, need 'em!" protesters
chanted, stressing a theme of opposition to big banks that has
been championed by the Anti-Wall Street Occupy movement.
Some 150 blue-uniformed Chicago police officers ringed the
square, named after former Mayor Richard J. Daley, who was in
office during bloody clashes between police and anti-Vietnam War
protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
Political activist Tom Hayden, who was among the leaders of
the 1968 anti-war protests, spoke to the rally, reminding the
demonstrators of the incident, which has remained a stain on
"It's been 44 years since I had a permit to speak in
Chicago," Hayden said.
Thousands of security personnel are deployed to protect the
summit, to be held at a convention center near Lake Michigan
which has been surrounded by high fences. The FBI has said there
was no indication of threats of terrorism, although they were on
The mood was mostly festive on Friday, with groups of nurses
dressed in red dancing and singing on a sunny warm day. A few
young protesters shouted at police, who did not respond.
One man who jumped a barricade surrounding a large metal
sculpture by Pablo Picasso and had the words "kill" scrawled on
one cheek and "cops" on the other yelled epithets at police, who
"We're not trying to provoke the police. We don't want
trouble. But if they push us we're ready to respond," said a
young man in a skull mask and black hoodie, who gave his name as
'ROBIN HOOD' TAX
The nurses called for what they term a "Robin Hood" tax on
financial institutions' transactions to offset government
funding cuts that have affected healthcare, education and social
services. Many sported green hats and masks.
"What we want to say is our priorities are upside down and
we need to make sure we focus on our communities," said Deborah
Burger, speaking on behalf of the nurses.
The protest coincides with Friday's start of the Group of
Eight economic summit, which was originally due to take place in
Chicago but was moved to the presidential retreat at Camp David,
Maryland. The G-8 is grappling with a worsening economic crisis
in Europe that could drag down the global economy.
The largest planned protest was expected on Sunday in
Chicago, when the two-day NATO summit begins.
Police said a dozen people have been arrested so far, mostly
for trespassing. One man was arrested for battery against a
Volunteer lawyers representing the protesters said police
raided a Chicago apartment building earlier this week and took
away nine protesters. Four of them were released on Friday but
the five others have yet to be charged, said National Lawyers
Guild defense lawyer Sarah Belsomino.
One of the four, Darrin Annussek, 36, said he was handcuffed
in a police interrogation room for 18 hours, not allowed to go
to the bathroom, and was never questioned. Police declined to
comment on the allegations.
Military aircraft conducted exercises on Friday over the
city in preparation for the summit, in case planes needed to be
intercepted in a "no fly" zone above the summit, a spokesman for
the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
(Additional reporting by Nick Carey, Eric Johnson and Kyle
Peterson; Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune and