Protest against corporate greed gathers pace on New York bridge

Brooklyn Bridge stand-off grabs attention. Stephen Foley reports

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What began as a small demonstration against corporate greed may have become too big to ignore, just two weeks after a small group of protesters came armed with tents and blankets to America's financial heartland.

The burgeoning protest movement claiming to "Occupy Wall Street" looks like becoming a cause célèbre after the arrest of 700 people who blocked New York's Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend.

Celebrities expressed their solidarity and descended on the makeshift camp in the heart of Manhattan's financial district amid criticism of police tactics. The protest now enters its third week with the attention of the media and the backing of organised unions for the first time.

The disruption on the Brooklyn Bridge marked the moment that the Occupy Wall Street protests hit the headlines, as police moved in with orange netting to pen demonstrators who were disrupting traffic on the roadway that spans the East River.

The march organisers claimed participants had been lured on to the roadway by police, who had previously seemed to stand aside for them; the authorities insisted there had been repeated warnings that straying from the pedestrian walkway would be regarded as disorderly conduct.

Scenes of protesters being bound with white rope handcuffs and being dragged away by police were yesterday replayed on the internet to galvanise additional support.

The protest, conceived by the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, began two weeks ago with a march on the financial district by several hundred protesters, but it quickly shrivelled to less than 200 people who promised to camp out in the nearby Zuccotti Park, a square close to the World Trade Centre site.

Participants promised to camp in the park through the winter, setting up a soup kitchen and general assembly to formulate the protest's demands.

Until recently, Occupy Wall Street's only noticeable impact has been a heavy police presence around the bronze bull statue that is Wall Street's most famous landmark.

The size of the protest has been tiny by New York standards, but its longevity is unusual, and the camp has attracted donations of blankets and food from around the US; and liberal campaigners including the actor Susan Sarandon and filmmaker Michael Moore have come to help out.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired small demonstrations against corporate greed in other cities around the US, including in Washington and Los Angeles over the weekend.

With local unions urging their members to join protest marches in the coming days, a movement that the New York Police Department had hoped would have petered out by now looks likely to grow, and what had once been easy to dismiss is now front-page news. As the tabloid New York Post put it yesterday, over a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge invasion: "$#!t hits the span."