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Reno, Rossello Pleased With Peaceful Vieques Operation Bush And Gore On Removal Of Protesters
Reno Pleased With Peaceful Vieques Operation
By Michael J. Sniffen, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 160 protesters peacefully removed from a U.S. Navy bombing range on Vieques today will escape all charges so long as they don't return and haven't assaulted federal officers, Attorney General Janet Reno said.
Reno spoke as the early morning operation, begun at 5:05 a.m. EDT, on the Puerto Rican island neared its end.
A federal law enforcement official said later that some 100 deputy U.S. marshals had cleared about 30 demonstrators away from the front gate of Camp Garcia, and another 45 left there voluntarily.
Inside the camp's bombing range, about 200 FBI agents removed 139 protesters, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., from 12 camp sites that had been occupied for up to a year, according to this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. One protester, who had chained himself inside a tank, remained in the area at midday.
The protesters were being taken by barge to the Roosevelt Roads naval station on Puerto Rico's main island. Their names were to be taken down prior to their release, so that they would be subject to arrest on trespassing charges if they returned to the base.
The Coast Guard, which established a three-mile-wide security zone in the waters around the base on Vieques, intercepted nine boats there this morning and turned them back, this official said.
President Clinton was advised during the night by his chief of staff, John Podesta, that the operation had begun and was briefed on its progress this morning, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
"The president is pleased that the operation moved forward in a peaceful fashion," Lockhart said.
He added that Clinton believes all parties now should move forward on their agreement to hold a referendum as early as next year on the range's future while letting the Navy use the base in the meantime.
Reno said that as long as protesters don't commit violence against federal officers or try to re-enter the base, they won't be charged.
"We're trying to make sure that people understand that we intend to enforce the laws but that we want to do so in a fair and measured way," she told reporters in her weekly news conference.
More than 200 FBI agents and 100 deputy marshals participated in the operation, said federal law enforcement officials.
"I am pleased that so far the operation has gone very, very smoothly," Reno said. "All indications are that the protesters have handled themselves in a peaceful and dignified manner."
Although the protesters were moving without a fight, Reno said they wanted to be taken into custody to underscore their opposition to the bombing range.
She said no special court order was needed to evict the protesters because they were in violation of federal laws against trespassing on U.S. military property.
"The military had the authority to act, but in this instance it was felt that law enforcement had more experience in a situation like this," Reno said.
A raid to clear the base had been expected since three U.S. warships carrying Marines arrived in the Vieques area Monday. Reno said the Navy and Marines had ultimate responsibility for securing the range.
Earlier today, the U.S. Coast Guard said it was blockading waters and land adjacent to the bombing range and warned people to stay away.
Reno spoke about four hours after the operation began. She emphasized that the action was taken "with the full support of the government of Puerto Rico and the assistance of the police of Puerto Rico."
"I think it was pretty straightforward," she said of the operation.
And she shrugged off any comparisons between that operation and the armed raid that took Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives and returned him to his Cuban father two weeks ago.
Asked whether the lessons of that raid had influenced agents in the Vieques operation, notable for its careful on-scene negotiations with protesters, Reno simply said, "No."
ROSSELLO SATISFIED WITH OPERATION ON VIEQUES
By Melissa Correa Velazquez, EFE News Service
Carolina, Puerto Rico , May 4 (EFE).- Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello made an aerial inspection of several areas on the island of Vieques on Thursday, after which he expressed his satisfaction with the way the eviction of demonstrators protesting U.S. military actions was carried out.
Rossello flew over the Navy's Camp Garcia, where protesters had been stationed, to observe the results of the operation, which was carried out by FBI agents and federal marshals.
After the inspection, the governor said everything seemed to be in order, but he did not comment on whether or not the structures built by the protesters had been knocked down.
According to EFE, the structures had been dismantled on part of the military training grounds.
"I am very satisfied with the peaceful manner the operation, ordered by President Bill Clinton, was carried out - giving the demonstrators ample freedom to express themselves," Rossello said after the inspection.
He asked several groups, which announced that they would return to protest at the sight, to keep their demonstrations peaceful.
The governor also said he was not in favor of postponing further military training exercises until a referendum is carried out on the island.
He did, however, say he would like the vote to be held as soon as possible.
The referendum, which could be held as early as August and with which the Navy has promised to comply, will be held on Vieques to determine whether or not the island's residents want the U.S. military to abandon Camp Garcia entirely.
According to a presidential order, the Navy can resume limited exercises on the island in as early as two weeks.
Bush And Gore On Removal Of Protesters
Associated Press Newswires
Presidential candidates on removal of protesters from Navy bombing range:
"I respect the elected representatives of the people of Puerto Rico and Vieques ... all of whom agreed to the plan that will speedily relocate the Navy testing and call for the interim testing to be much shorter in duration and to eliminate any live shells and to move as quickly as possible to another location and, finally, to have a referendum to decide this matter in Vieques. That is the solution that I think is the right one. Again, I don't want to comment on a law enforcement action but I think the solution that the president worked out with the leadership of Puerto Rico and Vieques offers the best chance to resolve this." - Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
"Fortunately, the protest removal was resolved peacefully and the continuing unrest is cause for concern. George Bush has said that the Navy should work to resolve this in a way which respects the wishes of the Puerto Rican people and work closely with the local government to do so." - Scott McClellan, spokesman for Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee.