U.S. agency to free up protest sites during Trump inauguration

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By Ian Simpson | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Protesters will get public sites for
demonstrations during Republican Donald Trump’s presidential
inauguration, a major federal land agency said on Thursday,
after being threatened with a lawsuit from civil rights lawyers
who accused it of quashing dissent.

Up to 900,000 people are expected to pack into the U.S. capital for the New York businessman’s Jan. 20 swearing-in to
his first political office. Some plan to protest Trump’s more
controversial promises, including plans to build a wall along
the Mexican border and deport illegal immigrants.

Only three of the more than 30 groups seeking to stage
rallies either protesting or celebrating Trump’s election
independently of the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee have
received permits to use National Park Service land before,
during or after Trump’s inauguration.

The agency said it expected to begin issuing permits for
demonstration sites on park land in coming days, an announcement
that came a few hours after the Partnership for Civil Justice
Fund said it would sue if the permits were not issued by Friday.

“We believe that this is a significant victory for free
speech. They are doing this under threat of litigation,” Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard, the fund’s executive director, said in a
telephone interview.

The Park Service had maintained it was following a procedure
in place since 2008 by turning over control of sites, including
along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House, to
Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Agency spokesman Mike Litterst said the Park Service would
regain control of permits for the Ellipse, a grassy area south
of the White House, from the inaugural committee on Jan. 21.

Litterst said in an email that the agency was working with
more than 30 permit applicants and was still receiving requests.

The Park Service has been under a court order since 2008
mandating it to guarantee free speech during presidential
inaugurations.

Three liberal groups, the ANSWER Coalition, the American
Constitution Society and the Black is Back Coalition, have been
permitted to hold events near the parade route, but only ANSWER
was granted one for Inauguration Day, according to the Park
Service permits website.

WOMEN’S MARCH GOES AHEAD

Some 3,000 police officers and 7,000 National Guard troops
from outside the District will be on hand to help provide
security at Trump’s swearing in, Chris Geldart, the District of
Columbia’s homeland security director said in a phone interview.

The biggest inauguration protest, the Women’s March on
Washington on Jan. 21, will go on regardless of the dispute over
protest sites since it will be held on city streets.

At least one protest could come with a cloud of marijuana
smoke, as the DCMJ pro-pot lobbying group, which spearheaded the
legalization of the drug in Washington D.C. in 2015, plans to
distribute 4,200 joints near the inaugural site.

Smoking marijuana along the parade route would violate the
laws of both the District of Columbia – which allows it only in
private spaces – and the federal government, which bans it
outright.



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