End of an occupation: 200 arrests as protesters are driven out by LA police

 

Los Angeles

A pile of collapsed tents, a mountain of what locals call "trash", and a slight whiff of raw sewage was all that remained of the occupation of Los Angeles last night, after police successfully evicted demonstrators from the centre of America's second largest metropolis.

In the early hours of the morning, 1,400 officers descended on the public space surrounding City Hall, where around 800 members of the so-called "99 per cent" have spent the past seven weeks. By dawn, the encampment, which in recent days had been swelled by several hundred temporary residents, was no more.

Police reported around 200 arrests, mostly of protesters who refused to leave once the area had been encircled. They were handcuffed, with plastic ties, and removed to a processing facility in the car park of Dodger Stadium, the nearby home of LA's baseball team. It remains unclear whether criminal charges will be filed.

Officers carried guns and batons and were equipped with riot-control devices, but they were barely used. LA police chief Charlie Beck told a press conference that "absolutely minimal force" had been employed, although his officers did fire bean bag rounds at three protesters who refused to remove themselves from a tree house.

The conspicuous absence of the tear-gassing, pepper-spraying, and occasional beatings that have characterised similar operations in other US cities was partly due to the fact that LA's Democratic administration is strongly supportive of the Occupy Movement.

Shortly after the encampment was formed, in early October, the city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, toured to speak with residents and hand out free anoraks. Last week, he reportedly offered to lease them both a 10,000-square-foot Downtown office, and a patch of farmland just outside LA, if they agreed to leave voluntarily.

Although that offer seemed hugely generous – the office and farm would have been leased at a peppercorn rent of $1 per year – the Occupy protesters, who have neither formal leadership nor clearly-defined policy goals, were unwilling to accept it.

Mr Villaraigosa duly served an eviction notice, saying he was concerned at both sanitary conditions in the encampment, on what is officially a park, and the fact that several residents appeared to be children of school age. The deadline passed on Sunday night.

Despite the encampment's closure, the mayor said that a First Amendment area would remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps where protesters could continue to voice grievances.

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