MINNEAPOLIS -- With more than 800 uniformed officers on the streets or waiting in the wings, police say they're ready for anything as demonstrators prepare to protest the International Society of Animal Genetics conference, which officially kicks off Saturday and runs through Wednesday.
Legions of uniformed police officers debarked city buses here Friday as conferees began checking in at the downtown Hyatt Regency hotel. Both were met with business-as-usual on the Nicollet Mall, the bustling buses-and-taxis-only transitway that runs in front of the hotel where the conference is being held.
About 650 animal geneticists from around the world are expected at the 27th biennial conference, where they'll exchange research and information in workshops and seminars. ISAG is one of the world's most prominent groups that shares information on the gene mapping of livestock and companion animals, used to enhance their health and resistance, said society secretary Brian Kirkpatrick.
Neither police nor activists who are organizing a counter-conference have any idea how many demonstrators could get involved. Activists say as many as 100 will come to the counter-conference and up to 600 could demonstrate; police have not tried to predict the numbers, but have said as many as 1,200 could participate.
Activists say genetic engineering threatens biodiversity, constitutes "playing God" and could pollute delicate ecosystems or create a society in which corporations and the government control what kinds of animals and humans are born.
With nary a protester in sight downtown on Friday afternoon, most officers weren't doing much more than standing around, redirecting a steady trickle of confused pedestrians away from the perimeter and enjoying the clement weather. Some, like Sgt. Bob Goedderz, who normally conducts investigations in plain clothes, donned a uniform for the first time in many years.
"Take a picture, because you won't see this again soon," said Goedderz, straightening out his powder-blue digs and five-point cap.
A block away, a pair of city workers safely ensconced a 30-foot, glass-enclosed clock tower in particle board. A few nearby office buildings had also boarded up their glass fronts.
Rows of six-foot, chain-link fence atop temporary concrete barriers enclosed the section of the Nicollet Mall in front of the hotel, one of downtown's most vibrant business corridors, flanked by coffeehouses, bars, restaurants and shops that attract the ubiquitous foot traffic.Only delivery and emergency vehicles were allowed to pass.
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