New rules give protesters more leeway at Republican convention

Cleveland relaxes rules on protests near Republican convention
Cleveland relaxes rules on protests near Republican convention

CLEVELAND, June 29 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday authorized a new plan allowing protesters at next month's Republican National Convention in Cleveland to demonstrate in an area that will be readily visible to convention goers.

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The new plan, approved by U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster, also cuts in half the size of an "event zone" where demonstrations and mobility will be limited and gives protesters more time to demonstrate.

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The agreement between the city of Cleveland and the American Civil Liberties Union resolves weeks of wrangling over the rules for what are expected to be lively protests when Donald Trump is due to become the Republican Party's official nominee for president at the July 18-21 convention.

Trump campaign events have drawn raucous demonstrations, with some resulting in clashes between his supporters and opponents.

"This settlement is a significant improvement from what the city had previously offered," Christine Link, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement.

The ACLU sued on behalf of three groups planning to organize thousands of demonstrators, calling the rules too restrictive.

Dan Williams, spokesman for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, described the changes as "minor" and said he did not believe there would be an increased security risk as a result.

Cleveland originally planned to cordon off 3.3 square miles (8.5 square km) around the convention site as an event zone where free speech mobility would be limited.

After another federal judge struck down the city's original plan, the two sides settled the lawsuit on Friday and took several days to work out details before revealing the new plan.

The event zone is now 1.7 square miles (4.4 square km).

The new zone frees up parkland where demonstrators will be able to organize before their protests. It also removes the Port of Cleveland and a small public airport for corporate jets and air taxi services from the restricted area.

The main parade route for demonstrators now extends deeper into central Cleveland and will be more visible from the sports arena where the main event will take place, and more within the view of delegates and the media. The previous route took demonstrators further away from the center of town and over a bridge where they would be seen primarily by themselves.

In addition, groups were granted extra staging time between protests.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Citizens for Trump, a Texas-based group that supports the businessman's campaign; Organize Ohio, a liberal activist group; and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, a charitable organization. (Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)