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Peace protesters arrested
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About 200 protesters blocked the doors the federal courthouse in Minneapolis Tuesday morning. Nearly 70 were arrested. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)

Minneapolis, Minn. — About 200 protesters marched on the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis and blocked the entrances Tuesday as they demanded an end to the war in Iraq.

At least 67 protesters were arrested by police and held on city buses after they refused to move from the doors in the back of the building. There were no immediate arrests at the front doors.

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Among those blocking the doors was Bill Berneking, 63, a retired computer engineer from Wayzata, who said he was prepared to be arrested.

"It's very important for us to make a clear statement to this war being unacceptable, to make it very clear in the strongest way that it's not in our name," Berneking said.

"Wage peace, not war, hands off Iraq," the protesters chanted. Other chants included "Iraq is not the enemy" and "War is not the answer." One of the signs in the crowd read, "When you fight evil with evil, evil wins."

Michael Ward, who works in the U.S. attorney's office inside the building, said the protesters didn't keep people out because the building has plenty of entrances.

"What goes on inside is the protection of constitutional rights - the same ones that these people are exercising," Ward said. Alison Berg, 25, a courthouse employee, was less understanding, saying she was confronted by demonstrators as she arrived. "Don't these people have jobs?" she asked a reporter for the Star Tribune. "How am I supposed to get to work?"

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It was the second set of arrests in as many days as some activists turned to civil disobedience. Police arrested 28 Monday after a daylong vigil at Sen. Norm Coleman's St. Paul offices, the first such arrests in the Twin Cities since the war began.

The vigil began with about 35 protesters who blocked entrances and exits. They were joined late Monday by a few hundred more from a demonstration at the University of Minnesota. The crowd inside the office stayed at about 30.

After the office closed for the day, police gave those inside the option of leaving or being arrested, Coleman spokesman Tom Steward said. Then staffers told the protesters they could stay the night if they remained in the lobby. But some tried to get past police to the back offices, and the arrests began. Most were tagged for trespassing and released.

Coleman's state director, Erich Mische, says the senator was dismayed that his staff couldn't carry out their work with other constituents that day, but he says protest comes with the territory.

"It's frustrating, but again, if you live in America and if you value freedom and you value freedom of speech then you've got to accept these kinds of things once in a while."

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Mische said Coleman and his staff disagree with the protesters' message.

"Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator, and kills his own people," Mische said. "The senator believes that leaders who kill their own people and threaten the security of their neighbors and the United States can't continue to go unchecked."

Until Monday's event, arrests of anti-war demonstrators have been rare to non-existent.

Earlier Monday, a few hundred University of Minnesota students just back from spring break added their voices to the protests against the war. A smaller but sizable group of counter-demonstrators turned up to express support for American soldiers.

"I look out here today, and I see all of America out here," Erika Zurawski, a 20-year-old sophomore, told rallying students. "I see every class, race and gender ... so, Mr. Bush, welcome to America."

A core group of 75 to 100 organizers held the event, and another 200 students joined in. Several hundred more students watched the demonstration from a distance.

About 50 counter-protesters managed to make their own chant heard: "One, two, three, four, we don't want Saddam no more!" One of them, Dan Nelson, said troops want to hear that some people on college campuses support them. "All they hear about is hippie protesters," Nelson, chairman of Campus Republicans, said. Marty Andrade, a 21-year-old psychology student, said he found the anti-war protest "a little depressing." While holding an American flag and a "Liberate Iraq" sign, he said reports of U.S. troops finding documents about chemical weapon sites proves that Saddam Hussein lied to the United Nations.

"These people are so thickheaded they can't see it," said Andrade, a son of an Air Force officer.

Among other Minnesota developments related to the war on Monday:

-Another 13 Minnesota National Guard troops from central Minnesota embraced family and friends before heading for deployment to southwest Asia. About 100 people bade farewell to the soldiers, who are air traffic controllers.

"I'm just anxious to get this over with," a teary Jessica Ludwig, of Rice, said at the ceremony near Fort Snelling. "It's really tough leaving."

-About 45 seventh- and eighth-graders walked out of a Minneapolis school to protest the war. The father of a girl who organized the walkout said students were upset that they weren't allowed to join last week's student-dominated protest at the University of Minnesota.

-Anti-war protesters held a vigil at Sen. Norm Coleman's St. Paul offices. Participants in the campus protest later marched to Coleman's office.

-The Senate approved a resolution supporting the U.S. troops at war and their families. The resolution also offered support to President Bush, but not before a long debate during which the word "president" was changed to "commander in chief."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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