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Protest Atmosphere Tense, Party-Like

April 16, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Alli Starr of San Francisco looked at the line of police officers, their billy clubs at the ready, facing off with a group of angry protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue. And she danced.

Following the lead of nearby drummers, the 32-year-old woman and her three friends gyrated smoothly in a circle, flowing hand movements in time with the beat. The nearby crowd slowly forgot the police and began to dance and clap as well.

A tense situation soon turned into a street party.

Many of the protesters in Washington used their own brands of music Sunday, from saxophones to guitars to harmonicas, as well as dancing to get their points across.

Starr and her friends, the Emma Said Dance Project of San Francisco, used dance to help keep the protest crowds calm and focused on what they were supposed to be doing.

``That was our solidarity dance,″ she said, catching her breath. ``A quartet of women dancing in solidarity with people around the globe and with people in the inner city of this country.″

Every group seemed to have at least an amateur drummer, beating on a bucket or a nearby street sign.

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Call it Andres Thomas Conteris’ Tienanmen moment.

The 38-year-old activist from Washington stopped a military-style truck as it moved through a tense crowd standoff Saturday night, standing in front of the truck with his hand held high.

His pose was reminiscent of the famous picture of a student blocking a tank near Tienanmen Square in the 1989 showdown between Chinese protesters and troops in Beijing.

Conteris, with the Center for Economic Justice in Washington, successfully blocked the truck for several minutes before he was wrestled away by police.

``We’re seeing an escalation of the violence by police, but we’re remaining nonviolent,″ Conteris said, after police let him go. ``I put my body in the way of those trucks. What’s happening tonight is a symbolic show of force, but we will not be deterred.″

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Gene Stilp of Harrisburg, Pa., stood on a platform on an anti-nuclear float dressed in a tuxedo. He said he was dressed to the hilt because ``if you have to go to the bathroom, the best place to go is the Mayflower Hotel (in downtown Washington). And if you’re in a tuxedo they let you right in.″

The energy consultant said he successfully walked into the hotel ``bleary-eyed, like I’d been partying all night.″

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Judy Sperber of Washington, who pushed a stroller with her 2-year-old daughter Jadie, said she wanted the child ``to be part of this.″

``I hope she’ll learn why you have to question stuff.″ The youngster wore a T-shirt that said ``Question authority.″

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Several hundred people marched Sunday down the K Street business and lobbying corridor a block from Pennsylvania Avenue. They beat on plastic buckets and drums, spray-painted slogans on an empty police bus and dragged heavy metal garbage cans into the street.

The police presence was light, and some people got stuck in their cars, as protesters swarmed around them and lifted their banners over the vehicles as they passed by.

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Late in the afternoon, as hundreds of protesters listened to speeches under a warm spring sun on the Ellipse behind the White House, two dozen mounted police, holding shields and wearing helmets, sat on their horses under a shade tree at the fringe of the good-natured crowd.

Farther away, a contingent of protesters marched boisterously down Constitution Avenue. The officers and their horses watched in silence.

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EDITORS _ Associated Press writers Cal Woodward, Larry Margasak, Robert Glass and Will Lester contributed to this notebook.

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