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SPECIAL REPORT

Cleveland set to rock and roll

Security at peak as delegates, protesters and convention attendees descend on city

It's security, security and more security as the Republican National Convention (RNC) kicked off in Cleveland yesterday before it ends with businessman Donald Trump being anointed the party's presidential candidate on Thursday.

The first day of the four-day RNC is set to focus heavily on the shootings in the past two weeks, with the theme for speakers being Make America Safe Again.

On Sunday, combat armour-clad personnel armed with assault rifles were a visible presence downtown and, with extensive road blocks, tall metal barriers erected around the heart of the city and security personnel often outnumbering pedestrians, the normally bustling metropolis could have been mistaken for a war zone.

Sunday's deadly shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, combined with the outbreak of violence over the past two weeks, has ensured that the tension already associated with Donald Trump events escalated into full- blown anxiety.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the uneasiness came from Cleveland's police themselves as they called for the state's gun laws to be tightened, at least temporarily. Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president Stephen Loomis urged Ohio Governor John Kasich to ban members of the public from carrying their guns into the 4.4 sq km regulated zone set up for the convention.

"I don't care if it's constitutional or not at this point," he told CNN. "They can fight about it after the RNC or they can lift it after the RNC, but I want him to absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located) until this RNC is over."

  • RALLIES FOR AND AGAINST

    Delegates preparing to nominate Mr Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention this week are just some of the thousands of people descending on Cleveland. Organisers are also bracingthemselves for the arrival of protesters and supporters of Mr Trump. Here are some of the groups that plan to be there:

    AMERICA FIRST MOVEMENT

    WHAT IT IS: A coalition of pro-Trump groups in favour of his policies, including a wall on the border with Mexico.

    WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT TRUMP: Full-throated support. "Our job is to convince people that Mr Trump is the best possible candidate and that Hillary Clinton is the worst possible candidate," said Mr Tim Selaty, director of operations for Citizens for Trump.

    WHAT THEY ARE PLANNING: To celebrate Mr Trump's accomplishments and his policies, including at a rally where Mr Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who remains close to him, is expected to speak.

    CHICAGO ALLIANCE AGAINST RACIST AND POLITICAL REPRESSION

    WHAT IT IS: A group founded in 1973 as part of a push for the release of activist Angela Davis and others it considered to be political prisoners in the US.

    WHAT ITS MEMBERS BELIEVE: They oppose the use of violence by the police and support the rights of low-income people and minorities.

    WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT TRUMP: Members oppose him, though they do not generally stage protests over specific candidates.

    WHAT THEY ARE PLANNING: The group is part of an anti-Trump coalition that is holding a rally in downtown Cleveland.

    EVERYTHING SHE SAYS MEANS EVERYTHING

    WHAT IT IS: An art installation featuring 100 nude women holding round mirrors. New York-based artist Spencer Tunick will photograph the women; he has developed similar projects for years.

    WHAT THE POINT IS: To reflect "the knowledge and wisdom of progressive women" onto the convention and the city, according to the project's website.

    HOW THE ARTIST VIEWS TRUMP: Mr Tunick wants the event to be unifying. "We really are reaching out to people of all parties," he told Esquire magazine. "This is a work Republican women can participate in. It's not so much a protest as it is a representative artwork."

    WHAT IS PLANNED: Mr Tunick said he expected the participants would be nude for about 15 minutes. The women will get into formation and be photographed.

    NEW YORK TIMES

A spokesman for Mr Kasich said the governor did not have the power to suspend the open-carry law.

Mr Loomis, who heads the city's largest police union, also wanted officers to be deployed in groups rather than alone. "I had a guy last night standing out there by himself without the benefit of protection of a police car. Or partner. That is absolute insanity to me. There is no reason for that," he said.

Cleveland has been grappling with how to strike a balance between ensuring the safety of delegates to the convention and not depriving protesters' rights to freedom of speech.

Even before the racially divisive shootings of recent weeks, violence had been feared as there had been frequent clashes at Trump rallies around the country.

The solution has been a complex network of tall fences - similar to those used at the Singapore Grand Prix - to separate convention attendees and protesters. Cleveland police have also ordered some 2,000 sets of riot armour and batons. The city also received an additional US$50 million (S$67.4 million) in federal funding to bulk up its security measures.

These may not have been fully tested yet, but the preparations appeared to hold up against protests on Sunday. Various groups held protests throughout the city with no reported clashes with police.

Early on Sunday morning, 100 naked women took part in a photoshoot meant to send an artistic message to Republicans about women's rights. Later in the day, anti-Trump groups such as Black Lives Matter and Code Pink, a women's group dedicated to ending US-funded wars, gathered in a park to stage their protests.

But there was time for some merry-making as well.

As the sun set in the city, thousands gathered at the harbour for a fireworks display and a concert.

Rock and roll has thus far featured heavily in publicity materials for the convention as Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The convention logo features an elephant - the Republican mascot - next to an electric guitar.

Mr Trump offered condolences to the victims of the Louisiana shootings as he hit out at President Barack Obama.

"We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today. How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country? We demand law and order," he wrote on Twitter and Facebook.

Yet, speeches about the shootings will not be the only thing to watch out for on the first day of the convention. The line-up includes two soldiers who fought in Benghazi, Libya, and the mother of one of the victims. It is a clear sign that the proceedings will include its fair share of attacks targeting the Democratic Party's presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack that killed four Americans when she was Secretary of State.

Many will also be looking at whether the #NeverTrump movement mounts an unlikely final stand.

While the group failed to make headway during meetings of the rule-making committee last week, there has been talk of trying to force the issue at the convention itself. There is also talk of trying to subvert voting rules that force delegates to vote according to primary results and a proposal for a walkout when voting begins.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Cleveland set to rock and roll'. Print Edition | Subscribe