Oakland, Atlanta crack down on economic protests

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2011 5:48 PM
Oakland, Atlanta crack down on economic protests

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Atlanta and Oakland joined a growing list of cities losing patience with weeks of protests against economic equality, evicting and arresting scores of people and leaving one person in Oakland critically injured.

Police used tear gas and a stun grenade to disperse 1,000 demonstrators marching on Oakland City Hall late Tuesday and more than 85 people were arrested on charges of illegal camping or assembly without a permit at the group's makeshift camp in a downtown plaza.

Protesters said that an Iraq war veteran was hit in the head with a tear gas canister, and hospital officials said on Wednesday that he was in critical condition with a fractured skull.

In an early morning raid in Atlanta, police descended on a downtown park used as a base for protesters, evicting dozens and arresting 53 people who refused to leave. They had been allowed to camp in the park for three weeks but Mayor Kasim Reed said he changed his mind because of fire code violations and crowd control.

Demonstrators in both cities vowed to continue the protests, increasing tension with authorities who have been treading a fine line between allowing peaceful protest and concerns about trespassing, noise and safety.

The "Occupy Wall Street" protests, which began in New York City on September 17, complain about a financial system they say y mostly benefits corporations and the wealthy. They have criticized government bailouts of big banks, persistent high unemployment and economic inequality.

Groups have sprung up across the United States and in other countries. Tensions were building on Wednesday in at least two other cities, Orlando and Baltimore.

In Orlando, demonstrators had been complying with orders to vacate a park overnight and left their belongings, only to have police confiscate the property.

"Police are stepping up all over the country right now," said Shayan Elahi, a spokesman for the Orlando protest group.

Orlando Police spokesman Sergeant Vincent Ogburn said he could not explain the change in enforcement of park rules.

In Baltimore, the city ordered protesters to drastically reduce the number of people who camped overnight from roughly 200 to two people in single tent. Protesters were given a Wednesday deadline to comply.

Baltimore protesters voted on Tuesday night to reject the limit and asked city officials to work out a compromise. By midday Wednesday, city officials had not responded.

In the birthplace of the demonstrations, New York City, authorities have lately averted a showdown. More than 700 demonstrators loudly but peacefully marched through the streets of lower Manhattan on Wednesday to denounce for-profit healthcare.

The New York demonstrators are camped in a privately-owned park in the city's financial district, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said there was little the city could do until the park owners, Brookfield Office Properties, made an official complaint. The mayor said the city would start enforcing a rule requiring a permit for marches.

(Additional reporting by Mary Slosson in Los Angeles, Barbara Liston in Orlando, Jason Tomassini in Baltimore and Chris Francescani in New York; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Greg McCune)