Riot police cleared anti-Wall Street protesters from a government plaza in Oakland, California, yesterday, where they had been camping for two weeks, arresting 75 people and leaving a sea of overturned tents.
Hundreds of officers entered the camp before dawn, armed with tear gas and baton rounds. The arrests were on suspicion of unlawful assembly and illegal camping.
"It was definitely chaos. People didn't want to get gassed," said protester Anthony Owens. Police said none of the 170 protesters were injured, but some complained of rough handling. News footage showed many being taken away in handcuffs.
The Occupy protests over economic inequality have spread from a single camp in New York to cities across the United States and beyond since mid-September, overlapping with similar, earlier protests in Europe. An attempt earlier this month to clean the New York site, which protesters feared was a tactic to shut them down, ended with the authorities backing off.
Tensions between the authorities and the Oakland protesters rose last week when officials complained about deteriorating safety and sanitation. They ordered the protesters to leave but did not set a deadline.
Some people in the camp left as word spread about possible police action. Many of the remaining protesters locked arms and shouted as officers surrounded the plaza and moved in .
City officials had originally been supportive of the protesters, with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes "democracy is messy".
But the authorities later warned the protesters that they were breaking the law and could not stay in the encampment. They cited concerns about rats, fire hazards, public urination and acts of violence at the site, which had grown to more than 150 tents.
"Many Oaklanders support the goals of the national Occupy Wall Street movement," Quan said in a statement. "However, over the past week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the city could maintain safe or sanitary conditions or control the ongoing vandalism."
There were also reports of a sex assault and numerous complaints of intimidating and threatening behaviour.
Protesters disputed the claims. They said the protest was dominated by a spirit of cooperation that helped keep the site clean and allowed disputes to be resolved peacefully.
The authorities said protesters would be allowed to return to the plaza after it was cleaned up and could stay between 6am and 10pm but not overnight.
Many protesters said the raid had only served to strengthen their resolve that the Oakland protests would continue.Reuse content