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City says it is open to safe, legal protests during event

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 7:41 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

Just as it did in 2001 when the Asian Development Bank conference was held in Hawaii, the state's isolation might help limit the size of protests during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next month, some government officials say.

"I would suspect that to some extent, because we're isolated in the middle of the Pacific and it's expensive to get here, that we may not be facing the kind of thing that they would on the mainland where you can hop in a Volks­wagen bus and cross state lines in a heartbeat and go hundreds of miles," Mayor Peter Carlisle said in a recent interview.

But the mayor and his administration insist that opposing voices will be allowed to be heard. "This is America," he said. "People are allowed to protest. People are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech rights, and they are going to be allowed to do so, but obviously not at the expense of people's safety or in violation of the law."

Exactly how and where protests will be allowed is being determined. While the city said it intends to provide opportunities for exercise of free speech, it also has accommodated requests for city, state and federal use of several public areas to stage emergency vehicles. Those areas include Ala Moana Beach Park, Ala Wai Promenade, Ala Wai Community Park, Ala Wai Golf Clubhouse, Kapiolani Park and Kamokila Community Park.

A city spokeswoman said all of the plans for using the park areas are awaiting final approval and could change based on the needs of law enforcement and security for APEC.

At least one group, World Can't Wait-Hawaii, had requested a permit to gather at the Ala Wai Promenade, where it demonstrated during the 2001 ADB conference. After initially being denied a permit, the group reached an agreement — with the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii — to access part of the promenade that will be shared with law enforcement.

The ACLU says it is working with the city on giving the public more notice on what parks are available for use. "A lot of uncertainly remains because the secure zones have not yet been announced," Vanessa Chong, executive director of the ACLU-Hawaii, said in an email. "Once we know, the ACLU will determine whether they adequately protect the right to free speech and will be ready to take necessary action."

She added that the ACLU is so far "encouraged by the commitment" of government officials to respect free-speech rights.

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