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UPDATE 1-250 protesters arrested before McCain speech

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ST. PAUL, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Police arrested 250 anti-war protesters on Thursday shortly before John McCain accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the party’s convention a short distance away.

The peaceful protest, dubbed “No Peace for the Warmakers,” drew nearly 1,000 people who had planned to march to the downtown convention hall where the Republicans met.

Marchers chanted “Who is the terrorist? McCain is the terrorist” as they tried to cross several bridges that span Interstate 94 into downtown St. Paul, but were blocked by police.

After several standoffs, police in riot gear ordered the protesters to disperse. The group marched away from the convention, at one point trying to walk onto the highway.

Officers used flash grenades and teargas after two hours to herd them onto a bridge one mile from the convention hall.

“You are all under arrest,” a police officer told the crowd as officers on horseback and bicycles advanced.

While McCain spoke to a cheering Republican crowd downtown, police escorted the handcuffed protesters onto waiting city buses.

The 250 arrests followed 420 at several protests earlier in the week. Several journalists were among those arrested.

“At some point even a journalist has to recognize that they are in violation of the law and they have to make a decision -- are they going to get arrested or are they going to cover it from a distance?” St. Paul Police spokesman Tom Walsh said at the scene.

Walsh said most would be cited for unlawful assembly and released. One person was found with a semiautomatic pistol, for which he had a permit, and others were found with bags of feces, he said.

“The processing room in our building smells like a bathroom in a cheap bar,” Walsh said.

In a separate earlier incident on Thursday, roughly 60 people were arrested after they sat down in an intersection.

The peaceful protests against Republican policies by more than 10,000 people during the four-day convention were overshadowed on Monday by several hundred protesters who smashed shop windows and threw rocks and bottles at police.

In court documents, law enforcement authorities said self-described anarchists had planned to disrupt the convention for more than a year.

At least 20 faced felony charges ranging from destruction of property to conspiracy to riot, and one man was charged with making bombs that he planned to use at the convention.

One protester smashed a police car window at Thursday’s protest, but otherwise property damage was minimal, Walsh said.

Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said police have at times been overzealous. While those who break laws should be punished, “You can’t just sweep up everybody,” he said.

Some people at the protest said they were unnerved by the violence earlier in the week, and the heavy police presence.

“I feel like even if we don’t do anything wrong we might get in trouble,” said 19-year-old Casey Radcliffe.

Editing by Jackie Frank and Patricia Zengerle