Protesters crowd Gore during N.H. announcement stop

AIDS activists no threat, his spokesman says

June 18, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The second day of Vice President Al Gore's presidential announcement tour was marred here yesterday by four protesters who suddenly crowded in on him and disrupted his speech while local police and the Secret Service initially decided not to intervene.

Network television tapes reviewed after the incident showed the protesters taunting Gore from close range for 40 seconds before the first Secret Service agent moved toward them. Almost 20 seconds after that, local police escorted the group from the stage.

Chris Lehane, Gore's spokesman, said the Secret Service informed him they did not act sooner because in their judgment the protesters, a group of AIDS activists upset by administration policies, did not "present any direct physical threat" to the vice president.

Jim Mackin, spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington, said he could not comment on the specific incident. But he added: "We are always concerned about the safety of the vice president and Mrs. Gore. But at the same time, there are other issues we have to be conscious of in terms of freedom of speech."

Marla Romash, Gore's deputy campaign chairman, said the vice president's aides did not consider Gore to be in danger. "I trust the Secret Service with my life and know they are professionals. If they assess a threat to be serious they move with lightning speed. They are just not in the habit of jumping people with banners -- and rightfully so," she said.

During the incident, Gore three times said the same thing to the protesters -- "I'll be glad to talk with you afterwards" -- though he appeared uncertain how to react as the group lingered behind him. Sitting just in front of the demonstrators, Tipper Gore, who has published a book of photographs, whipped out a camera and snapped pictures of the commotion.

The protesters represented a group called AIDS Drugs for Africa, which includes members of the militant gay rights group Act UP! Protesters from the group also blew whistles and disrupted Gore's announcement speech in Carthage, Tenn., on Wednesday. And yesterday afternoon, they appeared at a Gore rally on Wall Street. But in neither case did they get near the candidate.

By contrast, yesterday morning three women, soon joined by a man, leaped up from seats arrayed behind Gore at a town hall-style event and, after getting within two or three feet from him, began blowing whistles and chanting: "Gore's greed kills. AIDS drugs for Africa." They also unfurled a banner with that message.

The group claims the administration is trying to protect the profits of U.S. pharmaceutical companies by threatening trade sanctions against African nations that reproduce low-cost generic versions of patented drugs used to treat AIDS. Gore aides dispute the group's claims.

Law enforcement officials appeared to act only after a group of yellow-shirted firefighter union members in the audience rose from their seats and moved toward the stage to confront the demonstrators.

One spokeswoman for the protesting group said Gore can expect more encounters in the months ahead. "We are planning actions throughout the campaign," Julie Davids said in a telephone interview.

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