NEW YORK (AP) – An anti-war group suggested Thursday that protesters could still gather in Central Park on the eve of the Republican National Convention, despite a judge’s ruling that it may not stage a rally there.

The group, United for Peace and Justice, said it would hold a march past Madison Square Garden and ending at Union Square – then let individuals decide for themselves whether to go to the park.

“To our supporters, we ask that you follow our march to the end and then make your own decision,” said Leslie Cagan, the group’s national coordinator. “I will be going to Central Park after this march.”

On Wednesday, a state judge rejected a bid by the group to force the city to allow a rally in the park on Sunday. City officials have said such a rally, which could draw 250,000 people, could damage lawns in the park.

The march was scheduled to begin at 14th Street at Seventh Avenue, proceed north 20 blocks to the Garden, the site of the convention, turn east and then return south to Union Square.

Cagan noted that Union Square was a place many New Yorkers gathered in grief after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

United for Peace and Justice said that the Rev. Jesse Jackson, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and actor Danny Glover were expected to join the march.

A second group, the anti-war ANSWER coalition, which saw its appeal to stage a rally in Central Park on Saturday rejected in a federal court earlier this week, said that it has begun handing out fliers informing protesters of their right to congregate in Central Park.

Meanwhile Thursday, a group of AIDS activists stripped naked in front of the convention site, demanding that President Bush make good on his promise to help HIV-positive people in the world’s poorest countries.

Two clothed members of ACT UP climbed atop a media van parked on West 33rd Street, across from Madison Square Garden, and held a sign reading “W: Drop the Debt. Stop AIDS.”

Then nine others, standing in the street, removed all of their clothes; a tenth protested in her underwear.

“This is New York,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg joked later. “Of course we have … naked people on Eighth Avenue.”

Police said they arrested 11 people. They were variously charged with public lewdness, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment.

The men and women stood in the buff for about 10 minutes, locking arms and blocking West 33rd Street as they chanted, “Drop the Debt. Stop AIDS.” The same slogan was stenciled in black on their bodies.

“Countries are spending all the money they have on paying off debt when they could be spending that money on prevention of HIV,” said protest organizer Eustacia Smith, 36, a Brooklyn social worker.


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