New York braces for Trump's return, protests

Jennie MATTHEW
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People shout slogans against US president Donald Trump as they march in front of Trump Tower in New York City

Donald Trump returns to New York on Thursday for the first time as president, with angry protests and security closures set to provide the backdrop to his talks with the Australian prime minister.

The Republican commander-in-chief, who spent his entire life in New York before moving to Washington on the eve of his inauguration, is expected to spend just hours in the largely Democratic city, where his policies are heavily disliked.

He will meet Australia's Malcolm Turnbull on board a decommissioned World War II-era aircraft carrier -- now the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum berthed on the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan.

Trump and Turnbull are set to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea by US and Australian forces against the Japanese in the leaders' first encounter since a tetchy phone call rattled ties in late January.

But international diplomacy aside, New Yorkers are less than thrilled about welcoming a president to a city that has been a bastion of anti-Trump protests since his shock election in November.

Around 80 percent of the city's electorate voted for his opponent Hillary Clinton, and the massive police presence -- and cost -- of securing his Trump Tower home and headquarters in the wake of the election were deeply unpopular.

His policies to restrict immigration, the administration's rollback of federal protections for transgender students and its assault on Obamacare are all widely unwelcome in America's most populous, and one of its most liberal, cities.

Historically an entry point for immigrants from around the world, more than three million of New York's 8.5 million residents were born overseas.

Trump's visit is expected to be fleeting. Reports say he will spend the night and weekend in Bedminster at his New Jersey golf club, rather than return to Trump Tower on one of the busiest stretches of Fifth Avenue.

Multiple groups are organizing protests, at DeWitt Clinton Park near the Intrepid and outside Trump Tower, where First Lady Melania and the couple's 11-year-old son Barron have continued to live through the school year.

"He's threatened to deport our neighbors, take away our health care, reject refugees from our shores and give even more tax breaks to billionaires," says the Facebook ad for the protest near the Intrepid expected to draw at least 2,300 people.

- 'Very expensive' -

The New York Immigration Coalition announced a day-long protest outside Trump Tower from 8:00 am (1200 GMT) to 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Thursday).

"This is still our New York, and we will fight to ensure that it remains a place for all of us," said Steven Choi, the group's executive director.

Police have kept quiet about the details of the security operation, likely to further snarl already notorious Manhattan traffic.

"There will be temporary closures in the vicinity of the Intrepid and Trump Tower when the president is in town," a spokesman told AFP.

Many expected Trump to return more frequently to New York, the city synonymous with his past life as a brash real estate developer and celebrity fixture in the tabloid press dating back to the 1980s.

Instead, he has spent weekends at his estate in Florida.

"Going back is very expensive for the country," Trump told Fox News in an interview broadcast Friday. "I feel guilty when I go back to here, because I hate to see the New Yorkers with the streets closed."

His arrival comes just days after wrangling over who picks up the tab was settled.

The city says it costs $308,000 a day when the president comes to town, and $127,000 to $146,000 to protect his family. It says it spent $24 million on protecting Trump Tower between the election and the inauguration.

But Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio this week welcomed $61 million of funding set aside in the federal budget for New York and law enforcement in other localities to protect the first family.

"We are getting what we are owed," announced the vehement Trump critic.

"That's good news for our city and the hardworking police officers faced with this unprecedented security challenge."