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Disturbances Continue in Miami at FTAA Meeting; Police Gain Upper Hand

Police in riot gear used batons, plastic shields, concussion grenades and stun guns in clashes late Thursday afternoon with hundreds of demonstrators protesting talks aimed at creating a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone. At least seven demonstrators were arrested. Police said at least one officer suffered minor injuries. Injured protesters were also seen by reporters, but no immediate details of the severity of their injuries were available.

The clashes delayed for more than an hour a march organized by the nation's unions, which are also opposed to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. About 10,000 marchers were taking part, and organizers promised it would be peaceful.

During the clashes, at least 1,000 protesters many wearing bandanas across the bottom half of their faces, surgical masks and blue batting helmets approached lines of police blocking downtown streets. Others carried gas masks and tried to pull down security fences with large hooks.

The vast majority of the day's protesters did not resort to violence. But, late in the afternoon, a small number of demonstrators -- some wearing black clothing and some with bandannas across the faces -- set small trash fires in the middle of Biscayne Boulevard, near the Hotel Inter-Continental, site of negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

A limited number of protesters, apparently members of a radical group commonly called the "Black Bloc," tossed rocks, bottles and other objects at black-uniformed, riot-equipped officers. One or more demonstrators also used makeshift slingshots to propel projectiles at police. Police responded with pepper spray, batons and bean bag rounds. After about an hour of small-scale confrontations, police largely succeeded in suppressing the hit-and-run assaults by protesters.

The protesters oppose the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, now under discussion at the Inter-Continental and other downtown locations. They say the pact would damage the environment, exploit workers overseas and cost many Americans their jobs.

No protesters were visible from the hotel, where the negotiations proceeded on schedule.

"I think Miami's put on a great show," said Gov. Jeb Bush, who attended the talks. "I'm really proud of what they've done." Union members and other protesters associated with the AFL-CIO gathered at the park at midday, ready for the big rally and march, though many of them were compelled by police to distinguish themselves from more radical elements of the protest.

The event was scheduled to run from noon until 4 p.m., though the start was delayed by the difficulties encountered by participants who tried to move through police lines. Some waited more than an hour and grew impatient.

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