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Anti-War Group Denied GOP Convention Protest Permit

An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration at the start of the Republican National (search) Convention has been denied a permit to use Central Park because the crowd would be too large.

United for Peace and Justice (search) said it planned to appeal.

The city parks department denied the group's request to rally on the park's Great Lawn after marching from 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue. A permit request for the march, submitted separately to the police department, is pending.

In denying the permit, city officials said the Aug. 29 event would exceed the 13-acre lawn's capacity of 80,000 people and "cause enormous damage to the lawn." The group said on its application that it expected 250,000 demonstrators.

"Now we just have to do another piece of organizing, to put pressure on the city to change their mind," said group leader Leslie Cagan.

In its appeal, the group plans to state that numerous events with more than 80,000 people have taken place on the lawn, including a 1981 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel concert that drew at least 400,000 fans and a 1982 anti-nuclear demonstration attended by more than 750,000 people, considered the largest protest in city history.

The Department of Parks and Recreation maintains that no gatherings of that magnitude have been held on the Great Lawn since the area was restored in 1996.

Parks department spokeswoman Megan Sheekey said the city has offered to help the group find another location.

United for Peace and Justice, which organized a February 2003 anti-war rally that drew tens of thousands of people to a 20-block stretch of First Avenue, said it hadn't ruled out pursuing the matter in court.

Another group denied a parks permit during the convention also is considering legal action.

Led by activist Aron Kay, who made a name for himself by throwing pies at public officials, the group last month sought permission to set up a 20,000-person camp for various activities in Tompkins Square Park from Aug. 27 to Sept. 12.

Sheekey said the request was denied because parks close at 1 a.m. and "a neighborhood park can't accommodate an event of that size."

Separately, a coalition of unions representing police officers and firefighters has requested permits to demonstrate during the four-day convention, beginning Aug. 30. Union members claim they are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other cities and are underfunded for fighting terrorism — complaints they plan to voice when Republican come to town.