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 February 2, 2002 | 1045 IST

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Free speech alive in Salt Lake but please book early

If you want to protest at the Winter Olympics, you had better book early -- space for exercising your freedom of speech is strictly limited.

Salt Lake City has designated six areas where demonstrations can take place in the city centre during the Games starting on February 8. Groups have to fill out an application form before they can be granted permission to stage a protest.

Demonstrations are limited to blocks of 50 minutes, with a 10-minute period to leave and allow the next group to set up.

"Having a safe and peaceful Olympics is critical. This plan will help us achieve that goal while showing the world our commitment to free expression and an open marketplace of ideas," says Mayor Rocky Anderson.

With 275,000 visitors expected for the February 8-24 Games, the city does not want to tax police resources already stretched by a huge security operation following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Much of the city's core is out of bounds to demonstrators and will be taken up with events, both sporting and artistic, centred on Olympic Square.

"We have done everything in our power to create safe, visible and meaningful opportunities for people to express their opinions near the Olympic action, while providing for the safety and security of those who live and work in Salt Lake City and for our visitors," Anderson said in a statement.

There are strict curbs on anything that could be used as a weapon and the number of people attending each venue. Pioneer Park can play host to demonstrations up to 500 people but only five people will be allowed on the corner of 200 South and 300 West.

No limits have been set on the number of participants on the "parade route" but marches must start after 10 am and finish before 1 pm, so demonstrators will have to keep up a brisk pace.

"The demonstrators are responsible for clearing the site at the end of the demonstration, including removing all signs, leaflets, candles, or other materials," the regulations add.

March For Our Lives, aimed at highlighting the plight of the poor and homeless, may draw thousands of protestors to the city next Friday, organisers say.

It will start in a park in the east of the city and head towards the stadium where the opening ceremony is taking place.

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