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Keyes Removed From Debate Site by Police

March 4, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Presidential candidate Alan Keyes was taken into custody briefly by police Sunday night when he attempted to enter a television studio where other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination were preparing to debate.

Lee Armstrong, director of programming and creative services, said the station was ``absolutely not″ pressing charges.

Keyes apparently was not formally arrested, but he was taken into custody _ with his hands restrained behind his back _ as he attempted to go in the main entrance of the WSB-TV studios about 30 minutes before the debate began.

``I have a right to speak,″ Keyes shouted as police hustled him away in handcuffs.

State Republican Party Chairman Rusty Paul said he had ``never been so embarrassed″ by the episode, which involved a candidate who has hit a chord with the anti-abortion faction in the party.

``We begged WSB to open it to all the candidates,″ Paul said.

Keyes showed up later in the evening for a live interview on a rival television station, WAGA.

He said one officer told him he was under arrest and that he was driven around for about 20 minutes before being told he was free to go at a parking lot near a city hall annex. He said he telephoned supporters from a nearby phone both, but given a ride by Mayor Bill Campbell who had driven over to pick up him.

Keyes said the mayor told him he hoped the incident would not give Atlanta a bad reputation. Keyes said he would consider suing WSB-TV and trying to get its license lifted.

``I honestly feel that Atlanta and the police department here became pawns in a very vicious and ugly effort to manipulate and distort the American political process,″ said Keyes. ``The people who own WSB apparently think that they can own the American political process.″

Throughout the day, Keyes and a band of supporters had staged an ``extended fast″ in five pup tents set up on the studio’s front lawn.

Keyes also was denied participation in a South Carolina debate last week that was limited to the top four finishers in the New Hampshire primary.

He told reporters outside the building Sunday that he was denied entry by WSB-TV officials.

``I was invited to participate in this debate and the owners of the TV station denied me,″ said Keyes. ``I am qualified as a candidate in the state of Georgia. No media outlet has the right to choose (who can debate). This is a travesty, a violation of the Constitution.″

Keyes supporters shouted: ``Let him speak. Let him speak.″

``As Martin Luther King went to jail in order to secure my right to participate, I go to jail in order to exercise that right,″ Keyes said on the steps of the TV station.

Keyes and his supporters pitched camp on the station lawn Saturday night and remained there during the day Sunday, even though Keyes left for a while to attend two church services.

By Sunday evening, the crowd had swelled to about 150 people and extra police were dispatched at the Secret Service’s request.

The one-time assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration approached the station door about 15 minutes before the debate’s 8 p.m. start and tried twice to force his way inside WSB-TV’s headquarters. Police took him away after he approached the station a second time.

The debate among Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander, started as scheduled shortly after the Keyes incident.

Campaign manager David Racer said Keyes had asked all the other campaigns to support him. By noon, only Bay Buchanan _ the candidate’s sister and campaign manager _ had responded, but only with words of support.

``We never had any intention of reconsidering,″ the decision not to invite Keyes, Bill Nigut, WSB-TV political reporter and a debate panelist, said Sunday afternoon.

Nigut noted that candidates Bob Dornan and Dick Lugar weren’t invited, either.

The station later released a written statement: ``WSB-TV invited the top four vote getters from the previous primaries and caucuses because this approach offers the voters of Georgia the most substantive debate. ... We’re sorry Ambassador Keyes did not agree with our selection process.″

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