Astronomers' convention in Waikiki may be focus of TMT protests - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Astronomers' convention in Waikiki may be focus of TMT protests

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The Hawaii Convention Center is warning people who live and work nearby to expect the possibility of protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope early next month when thousands of astronomers are in Waikiki for an international conference.

The International Astronomical Union will hold its general assembly at the Convention Center for 11 days from August 3 to the 14, bringing more than 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries for the conference that's held every three years.

Because of the current controversy atop Mauna Kea with some Native Hawaiians protesting and blocking construction of a new Thirty Meter Telescope there, officials are expecting the "… possibility of peaceful demonstrations," said Piero Bevenuti, deputy general secretary of the IAU, in a statement.

"We will be monitoring activities closely to ensure the safety of our participants and any potential protesters,” Bevenuti said.

Terence Yorga, who runs Gadget Guyz Cellular phone and computer repair shop right across the street from the convention center, is not worried.

"I don't see it being violent.  I think they're just trying to let people know that, 'Hey, the local people have an interest in what goes on here and they should have a say," Yorga said.

Yorga remembers four years ago during the APEC conference when world leaders including President Obama were in town. That’s when traffic was restricted around the convention center, but such traffic closures are not expected this time.

"The police ended up here and traffic was stopped and no one could actually move, so it would be a good idea for people to actually avoid this area.  I'll let my customers know, come a different day,” Yorga said.

Convention Center General Manager Teri Orton has sent a letter to nearby businesses, saying center security along with police and the state sheriff's division will "… implement a comprehensive plan, if needed, which protects the safety of all IAU attendees and any potential demonstrators."

"We encourage you to assess your security needs and procedures for your business," Orton said in the letter.

In a statement to Hawaii News Now, Orton said, "We have designated areas on Atkinson Drive for people to assemble and peacefully protest in a safe manner. We respect the right of people to exercise their free speech, but we also expect these protestors to not interfere with the activities of IAU or its attendees. We have a comprehensive security plan in place to address any protest scenario that arises.” 

Shane Lawler, the manager of Drones Plus, the first drone store in the state that just opened across the street from the Convention Center on Friday, is not concerned about any protests outside his store.

"I don't know, I think it's extra advertising too.  They'll be standing around and maybe they'll come in side and take a look at what we have," Lawler said. "So if they have something to say, then maybe they'll come out here in a peaceful manner and tell us what they feel about it."

Law enforcement officials said the Convention Center has already hired a large security contingent and the state sheriff’s division will have officers on standby inside the facility to respond if there are any significant problems. 

An HPD spokeswoman said, “HPD expects any protests to be peaceful and will have both uniformed and plainclothes officers on hand to assist with traffic and crowd management if needed.”

The 11-day event is expected to be one of the largest professional astronomy conferences in the IAU’s history, organizers said.  It’s the first time it has been held in Hawaii. The meeting is expected to generate an economic impact for the state of more than $20 million in tax revenue, organizers said.

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