Demonstrators Protest in Park Across From White House
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A wide variety of political and religious demonstrators protested discreetly and without incident in Lafayette Square today as President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev began summit talks across the street in the White House.
Two dozen Vietnamese refugees demanding democracy in their homeland sang patriotic songs and waved the former flag of South Vietnam. Nearby, 30 members of the ″New Testament Church″ carried banners denouncing the summit. ″Both Communist bloc and democratic rule are Satan’s deceptions,″ read one sign.
A self-described former Soviet political prisoner, Michail Makarenko, was accompanied by a man wearing a gas mask and a translator who carried signs calling for the Soviet Union to get out of Lithuania.
Makarenko criticized the use of poison gas to put down an uprising in the Soviet republic of Georgia and alleged that 8,000 forced labor camps containing 14 million prisoners dot the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, a half-dozen Buddhists who favor total disarmament pounded drums as they sat cross-legged on the ground facing a small statue of Buddha and burned incense. Across the park, the Moscow rock group Gaza played for the second consecutive day in support of a cure for AIDS.
About a dozen horse-mounted police officers and nearly 100 local and federal officers patrolled the park and adjacent streets. By midday, there were no arrests of demonstrators.
Trees blocked most of the view of the park from the White House and the only electronic amplifiers were used by the rock band, so it was unlikely that Bush and Gorbachev saw or heard any of the colorful protests on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
U.S. Park Police Sgt. Peter Gentile said about a half-dozen organizations involving up to 2,000 people had been granted permits to demonstrate Thursday. But Gentile estimated that only 150 protesters had shown up by mid-morning.
Vietnamese refugee Le Tuy, a 32-year-old car restorer who arrived in the United States in 1981, said he doubted the U.S. and Soviet leaders would see his group’s pro-democracy demonstration.
″We try the best we can to raise our voice, the real voice of the Vietnamese people,″ Tuy said. ″With the help of the media, we can carry our message to the two presidents.″
Tuy’s uncle, Nguyen Ngoc Bich, said the U.S. government still has some sway over Vietnam’s leaders.
″They need several things from the United States,″ said Bich, who arrived in this country in 1975. ″They want normalization. They want to lift the trade embargo. We think there should be quid pro quo. We’re asking for respect for human rights, for freedom to be restored and for a return to a more democratic system of government.″
Many groups that reserved space for the entire week at Lafayette Square, on the Ellipse behind the White House and at the Capitol’s reflecting pool planned to make appearances only on certain days.
Saturday should be the biggest day for demonstrations, said Park Police Maj. Carl Holmberg. He noted that Gorbachev and Bush plan to spend Saturday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the mountains of western Maryland.
In Lafayette Square on Wednesday, before Gorbachev’s arrival from Canada, was Concepcion Picciotto, 45, who has been there since 1981 as part of an anti-nuclear peace vigil.
″I want to do something for humanity,″ she said. She handed out leaflets that read, ″Every gun that is made, every warship launched, ever rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed.″