August 29, 1999

Thousands march in Puerto Rico to demand U.S. free independence

                  SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Shouting "freedom for the patriots!",
                  thousands of Puerto Ricans marched in San Juan Sunday to demand that
                  Clinton pardon 16 independence fighters jailed for sedition.

                  The demonstrators carried photos of the activists, members of the Armed
                  Forces for National Liberation (FALN) and the Macheteros guerrilla
                  groups. The two organizations carried out more than 130 bomb attacks in
                  the United States between 1974 and 1983 to demand independence for this
                  Caribbean territory.

                  Sound trucks blared patriotic music as marchers guided floats through San
                  Juan's banking district to a rally in front of the U.S. Federal Building. A
                  protester costumed as the Statue of Liberty walked on stilts carrying a
                  Puerto Rican flag and photographs of the prisoners.

                  "President Clinton should listen to this (protest) and bring them home," said
                  one demonstrator, college student Juan Carlos Colon.

                  Police said the demonstration was peaceful.

                  Clinton offered to free 13 of the prisoners on Aug. 11 but demanded that
                  they ask for clemency in writing, renounce violence, and abide by parole
                  conditions that would bar them from meeting with other convicted criminals.

                  Independence activists say those conditions are humiliating and would
                  effectively bar them from meeting with pro-independence comrades, since
                  many activists on the island have criminal records.

                  "The (conditions) are onerous, an insult to the dignity of a people that has an
                  inalienable right to fight for its liberation," said Lolita Lebron, who spent 25
                  years in prison for leading a shooting attack on the House of Representatives
                  in 1954.

                  On Sunday, she and other demonstrators said they wanted full pardons for
                  the prisoners.

                  In the United States, Clinton's clemency offer has outraged victims of the
                  FALN bombings and some politicians.

                  The president was criticized Sunday by Dick Armey, majority leader of the
                  U.S. House of Representatives, who said Congress might consider a
                  resolution condemning the action. Republican Rep. Dan Burton said it "sends
                  the wrong signal to terrorists around the world."

                  In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Friday also urged Clinton to
                  revoke the offer. The FALN is suspected of planting 49 bombs in New
                  York between 1974 and 1977; and in 1975 it bombed Greenwich Village's
                  historic Fraunces Tavern, killing four people and wounding 60.

                  Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when U.S. troops seized
                  it from Spain during the Spanish-American War.

                  The island's 3.8 million residents are U.S. citizens and can be drafted into the
                  military, but they cannot vote for president and have no vote s, when a wave
                  of arrests broke up the movement's more radical groups. In a December
                  referendum, less than three percent of Puerto Ricans voted to become a
                  separate country.