Denver protest camp set ablaze in clash with police

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2011 3:14 PM
Denver protest camp set ablaze in clash with police

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A holdout group of anti-Wall Street protesters set fire to their tent camp in downtown Denver during an overnight raid by police that dismantled the site, authorities said on Tuesday.

Nine protesters were arrested during the confrontation, including one person on suspicion of felony arson, said Denver Police spokesman Lieutenant Matthew Murray.

When police arrived late on Monday night, they were confronted by about 50 protesters, and one person in the group set the "shanty town" of tents on fire, Murray said.

Once officers moved protesters back, firefighters extinguished the blaze and public works crews dismantled the camp, he said. No one was injured.

The anti-Wall Street protest in Denver was one of the last encampments left in a major U.S. city, in a nationwide Occupy movement against economic inequality and what activists say is the undue power of the wealthy.

Larger protest camps in such cities as New York and Los Angeles were shut down by police in recent weeks. But the Denver site, across the street from the state Capitol Building, has continued to draw demonstrators despite freezing temperatures and past police crackdowns.

The overnight raid was the third time police removed demonstrators from the site since October.

Occupy demonstrator Jason Ball, 21, a University of Colorado at Denver student, said the confrontation overnight was more "tense" than previous evictions.

"We wish the city would engage in a conversation or dialogue with us," he said. "We will continue to protest until we see some action."

Aside from the person held on suspicion of arson, the other eight protesters taken into custody were arrested for misdemeanor violations such as disobeying a lawful order and interfering with police, Murray said.

The latest raid came after newly installed Denver Police Chief Robert White visited the camp last week, and told demonstrators they were violating the law by camping at the downtown protest site.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by attorneys with Occupy Denver, who claimed police were selectively using city ordinances to curb demonstrators' free-speech rights.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Greg McCune)