MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Some of the people who left chemicals that contained traces of cyanide at a McDonald's restaurant and other locations appeared to be activists who demonstrated against an animal genetics conference, police said.
Police said the people who left the containers of chemicals Monday were caught on video, and FBI tests revealed the presence of cyanide, a lethal poison, at the McDonald's and at least one other location.
"I don't want to be starting any panic thing, but this is clearly ratcheted up, at least on the side of the protests," Police Chief Robert Olson said. "There are some folks here, apparently, who have a lot more serious things than just civil disobedience on their minds."
On Monday, 71 people were arrested after protesters scuffled with police and hurled rocks, said police spokeswoman Cyndi Montgomery.
Aimee Crowle of Minneapolis burned incense while sitting in the middle of a downtown street in front of police.
It was the first significant disruption since the International Society for Animal Genetics conference opened at the Hyatt Regency Hotel here Friday under heavy security.
One police officer suffered a minor injury; no major injuries were reported among protesters, though dozens were sprayed with pepper spray and others were struck with police batons.
"We tried to be as gentle as we could," Olson said. "We gave them several opportunities not to be arrested. ... They want to shut down our city. We were not going to let them do that."
Low levels of hydrogen cyanide were detected in liquid from some of the containers, the FBI said. The agency was trying to determine what else was in the liquid. Some containers were also found at the Guthrie Theater and other sites.
"We take this very seriously," said FBI Special Agent Paul McCabe. "Not only does cyanide attack a person's central nervous system, but the gas it emits is very explosive."
Officers said they recognized some of the people leaving the containers as activists who took part in demonstrations and marches Sunday and Monday.
Four people were treated at the McDonald's, where some of the chemicals spilled on the floor, but nobody was seriously hurt. McCabe said a note was left at the restaurant that linked the incident to the protests.
Despite the protesters' efforts, scientists attending the conference said their meetings went undisturbed Monday.
Ian Franklin, an Australian researcher, said he and his fellow scientists never even heard the protesters as they attended sessions on topics such as what animal geneticists can learn from those studying humans. Franklin said he found all the excitement "rather strange."
Monday's skirmishes broke out after more than 200 protesters had gathered in downtown's Peavey Park. Denied a parade permit, the protesters began marching down Nicollet Mall, a pedestrian mall, toward the hotel.
Police officers dressed in riot gear lined cross streets to contain the marchers. About 1 p.m., a group of about 25 tested a line of about 12 officers in riot gear at an intersection about three blocks from the hotel.
When they tried to break through, they were wrestled down by officers. At least two news photographers also were shoved to the ground.
Protesters opened a canister of what may have been tear gas at the intersection. They also threw rocks at officers, police spokesmen said.
Officers fired what Deputy Police Chief Gregory Hestness described as rubber batons -- beanbag-like projectiles -- into the crowd.
A few minutes later, protesters tried to break through another police line and disperse into Loring Park, another downtown park that has served as a staging area for demonstrators. Officers fired pepper spray into the crowd, said Roseann Campagnoli, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
The demonstrators eventually did reach the park. By mid-afternoon, the situation had cooled, and it stayed that way the rest of the evening.
Protester Brett Stephan said the violence occurred when demonstrators were penned in by police. Stephan, a University of Minnesota student, called the police presence "intimidating" and said demonstrators never wanted to fight. "It's just absurd the actions they took against people who were defenseless."
Randall Morris, who said he was an impartial observer from the National Lawyers Guild, criticized police tactics and said the city erred in denying the demonstrators a parade permit. The Guild describes itself as a progressive bar association that predominantly defends political cases.
"The police showed little restraint, if any," Morris said.
Monday's protests were larger than a noisy but peaceful march Sunday night near the Hyatt, where about 650 scientists were meeting through Wednesday.
The scientists were exchanging 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 to disease.
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.
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