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Groups worried officials will limit ability to protest during summit

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 7:17 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

Federal and city officials insist the public will be allowed to demonstrate and protest peacefully when President Barack Obama and the leaders of 20 other nations gather in Waikiki next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

But a leader of at least one organization is raising concerns about the ability to do so effectively.

Carolyn Hadfield, of the organization World Can't Wait-Hawaii, said her group applied for a permit several weeks ago to gather at the Ala Wai Promenade, behind the Hawai‘i Convention Center, where a number of APEC events are to be held.

It was the same spot where a separate organization Hadfield has been involved with, ADB Watch, was allowed to protest during the Asian Development Bank conference in 2001.

This time around, however, city Department of Parks and Recreation officials told World Can't Wait-Hawaii that the space is not available, Hadfield said.

She said she was told the Honolulu Police Department reserved the space months ago, as well as all of Ala Moana Park, all of Ala Wai Community Park and part of Kapiolani Park.

HPD has repeatedly declined to discuss specifics of its APEC security plan and deferred questions raised about its use of parks to the Carlisle administration, which also did not address the sites in its written response to the Star-Advertiser.

Hadfield said the American Civil Liberties Union now is negotiating with authorities over the zones where protests can take place.

"The zones have to be close enough to be meaningful," she said.

At recent global gatherings in New York and Toronto, protesters were set so far back that attendees did not even realize they were there, Hadfield said.

"That sort of defeats the whole purpose of free speech and being able to have another opinion out there."

Vanessa Chong, ACLU of Hawaii executive director, said in a statement that her organization expects government officials to uphold the Constitution.

"Any permitting process must be fair," Chong said. "It would be severely disappointing if the government used its vast powers to make it so difficult for dissenting voices to be heard that individuals give up trying. That's not Hawaii and would present a damaging image worldwide."

City spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said it has received a permit request from World Can't Wait-Hawaii to wave signs during APEC week.

"The city is consulting with relevant agencies to see whether the request by ‘World Can't Wait Hawaii' can be accommodated," Kim McCoy said in a statement.

In general, a group seeking a permit to protest in a park should file with the city Parks and Recreation Department "three working days up to 24 hours before the event," Kim McCoy said.

People seeking to protest on a city street must submit an application with the city Department of Transportation Services at least five days before an event, Kim McCoy said. No requests have yet been submitted, she said.

Holding the key to where people may be able to protest or demonstrate is the Secret Service, which is in charge of overall security for APEC.

The Secret Service has established a "secure zone" that people can access only if they have approved APEC credentials, Secret Service spokesman Max Milien said in a statement.

Outside of the "safe zone" is a "general public zone," Milien said. "This zone would be outside of our secure zone and would encompass all general public areas to include demonstrators or groups." 

But Milien would not specify the boundaries of the safe zone.

"We understand the nature of this event and have anticipated the kinds of protests we may encounter," Milien said. "We are working collaboratively with our partners to make sure the event will be safe and secure for those we protect and the residents/visitors to Ho­nolulu."

The Secret Service respects the right of the public to demonstrate, regardless of purpose, message or intent, he added.

Kim McCoy pointed out that APEC has been designated by Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, as a National Special Security Event.

Such a designation is typically given to U.S. events attended by large numbers of dignitaries and which hold "national significance," thereby requiring large-scale security coordination. They include national political conventions and Super Bowls.

Locally, the city has allocated more than $28 million toward additional personnel, equipment and infrastructure for the event. Honolulu police and other law enforcement have been planning and training for the event for more than a year and police officers have been barred from taking vacation during November.

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