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Many to Vie for President Bush's Attention

By Associated Press

Buffalo, NY – Several groups will be vying for President Bush's attention during his brief stop in Buffalo Tuesday.

Peace activists want to tell him what they think of the war in Iraq. Civil rights groups want his ear on the Patriot Act, while labor unions say they will protest his economic policies.

One of the defense lawyers for the "Lackawanna Six" sought a meeting to tell Bush "the real story" behind the case involving the young Yemeni-American men imprisoned for traveling to an al-Qaida training camp.

The John Kerry campaign, meanwhile, will join demonstrators outside the music hall where Bush will speak to highlight Kerry as a better alternative, Erie County coordinator Mark Poloncarz said.

But it will be an invited audience of first responders who will have Bush's attention. The president, accompanied by Gov. George Pataki, is expected to tout the effectiveness of the Patriot Act since it was passed by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. With certain provisions of the measure expanding the government's surveillance and detention powers set to expire, it is anticipated Bush will make a case for its renewal.

"We'll be out there protesting but so will lots and lots of other people," said Jeanne-Noel Mahoney, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union in western New York. "I wouldn't even begin to predict how many people."

Among a coalition of groups planning to protest under the banner of "Western New Yorkers United Against Bush" were the Western New York Peace Center, Citizen Action, the Civil Service Employees Association, which is the state's largest employee union, and members of United Auto Workers.

"The demonstration is designed to address the reckless economic policies of the Bush administration that are targeted against hardworking Americans, also the serious attack on civil liberties that's embodied in the Patriot Act," organizer Charles Cobb said, "and the failed war effort built upon the administration's lies."

Mahoney said volunteers will be collecting signatures for a petition to be presented to members of the Buffalo Common Council later in the day urging them to pass a resolution reinforcing the Bill of Rights and against the Patriot Act. The ACLU said four states and at least 273 cities, towns and counties have passed such resolutions.

"It's not just a few people, not just the civil liberties union, that are finding things wrong," Mahoney said. "We do respect our Constitution and we certainly expect the government to respect the Constitution."

In a visit to Buffalo in September, Attorney General John Ashcroft cited the Lackawanna Six case as one of the measure's success stories. The case, one of the first major terrorism cases brought after Sept. 11, involved six Muslim men from the nearby city of Lackawanna who are now serving prison sentences after pleading guilty to providing support to a terrorist organization based on their attendance at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2001. A seventh man is reportedly in custody in Yemen.

Attorney James Harrington told The Buffalo News that he faxed the White House asking for a meeting with the president but had not gotten an immediate response. The defense attorney said he believes the federal government has exaggerated the importance of the Lackawanna case and the danger posed by those involved, and that he would like the president to hear an alternate view on the issue of terrorism prosecutions.

Supporters of the Lackawanna men say they were misguided into attending the camp and never would have acted against America. Prosecutors said they knew of no plans for an imminent attack.