Police cleared out a downtown plaza early Monday that had been home to Occupy Wall Street protesters, ordering out dozens of people who had encamped there since Oct. 17 and charging nine with trespassing or obstructing justice.
Officers began clearing the park around 1 a.m. and most of the protesters left peacefully, said police spokesman Gene Lepley. He said the nine were either arrested or cited when they refused to move. The arrests followed other police crackdowns around the country in places including Oregon, California, Texas, Tennessee, Atlanta and Denver.
The occupation, inspired by the anti-Wall Street protests in lower Manhattan, had blossomed into a tent city, with dozens scattered around Kanawha Plaza in the city's financial district. The site also included a library, a volleyball net and a large blue tarp strung up on three magnolia trees.
One of the protesters, Ira Birch, said the park was surrounded by a "huge line of cops" and police cruisers with their blue lights flashing. An officer read ordinances that the protesters were violating and told people to gather up their possessions and leave. She described the scene as "pretty peaceful."
Birch grabbed her laptop, a modem and other belongings. But a pile of tents, sleeping bags and other possessions was left outside the plaza as police cruisers with flashing lights remained on the streets surrounding it. Several cruisers were parked on the plaza at noon, and yellow police tape kept visitors out until public works crews could clean up the space.
A bulldozer was called into to clear the plaza of trash, furniture and other items that piled up over two weeks.
Mayor Dwight C. Jones visited the Occupy encampment last week and told the protesters he would have city officials meet with protest representatives to discuss the continued occupation of the grass-and-concrete park in front of the Federal Reserve Bank high-rise.
Lepley declined to say who ordered the police in two weeks after the occupation began, calling it a "tactical issue." State police also provided support.
Birch said the Occupy protest was surprised and disappointed by the city's actions.
"The mayor said they wanted to talk and we thought that was a positive sign," said Birch, a Virginia Commonwealth University student from Timberville. "I think everybody's pretty sad."
A spokesman for the mayor did not return a message left by The Associated Press.
The mayor has also angered tea party members, who said the city had issued a list of demands and fees when they held rallies on the plaza. They submitted a bill for $8,500 to City Hall on Friday.
Birch said the police action had only strengthened the resolve of protesters, who have cited a litany of complaints but generally have targeted what they call corporate greed and income inequality. Activist filmmaker Michael Moore had tweeted the Richmond police action, which Birch said pleased protesters.
About 30 protesters returned to the sidewalk at the edge of the plaza before noon. They planned to rally at the VCU campus about one mile away and return to the plaza, they said.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.
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