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Calif. police in riot gear raid camp outside Oakland city hall, arrest 75 protesters
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) ' Police in riot gear cleared anti-Wall Street protesters on Tuesday from the front of Oakland's City Hall where they had been camping for two weeks, leaving a sea of overturned tents, signs and trash strewn across the plaza.
Authorities arrested 75 people, mostly on suspicion of misdemeanor illegal lodging, and hundreds of officers and sheriff's deputies from more than a dozen agencies went into the encampment with tear gas and beanbag rounds around 5 a.m., police said.
About 170 protesters were at the site, but no one was injured, according to police.
"I'm very pleased with how things went," Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said after the raid.
Television news footage showed protesters being taken away in plastic handcuffs without incident, though some protesters complained of rough handling by police.
Officers fired tear gas and bean bags when one group of protesters pelted them with rocks and bottles near the camp's kitchen area, Jordan said.
"It was definitely chaos. People didn't want to get gassed," said protester Anthony Owens, 40, a computer programmer from Oakland who was at the scene when police moved in but was not arrested.
The Oakland site was among numerous camps that have sprung up around the country, as protesters rally against what they call corporate greed and a range of other economic issues. The protests have attracted a wide range of people, including college students looking for work and the homeless population.
Some people in the camp left as word spread about possible police action, Owens said. Many of the remaining protesters locked arms and shouted as officers surrounded the plaza and moved in.
Witnesses reported seeing smoke rising from the area. City officials deemed the plaza "contained" within half an hour, although tents and trash remained strewn there. A smaller encampment at a park near the plaza was also cleared Tuesday morning.
Police maintained a heavy presence around downtown Oakland into the morning. Streets were closed off by police barricades, and at least two helicopters hovered above. Riot gear-clad officers were seen facing off with shouting protesters, who briefly blocked traffic on a busy thoroughfare.
City officials advised downtown businesses to delay opening and city employees to come in late. Officials had been supportive of the protesters, with Oakland mayor Jean Quan saying that sometimes "democracy is messy." But the city later warned the protesters that they were breaking the law and could not stay in the encampment overnight.
Officials cited concerns about rats, fire hazards, public urination and acts of violence at the site, which had grown to more than 150 tents and included health, child-care and kitchen areas. There were reports of a sex assault and a severe beating, and fire crews and paramedics were denied access to the camp, according to city officials who said they also received complaints of intimidating and threatening behavior.
"Many Oaklanders support the goals of the national Occupy Wall Street movement," Mayor Jean Quan said Tuesday in a statement. "However, over the last week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the city could maintain safe or sanitary conditions or control the ongoing vandalism."
Protesters disputed the city's claims about conditions at the camp. They said the protest was dominated by a spirit of cooperation that helped keep the site clean and allowed disputes to be resolved peacefully.
Lauren Richardson, a 24-year-old college student from Oakland, complained that the disheveled state of the camp following the police raid created a false impression. She said volunteers collected garbage and recycling every six hours, that water was boiled before being used to wash dishes and that rats had infested the park long before the camp went up.
"It was very neat. It was very organized," Richardson said.
Many protesters said the raid only served to strengthen their resolve that the protests would continue. A flyer handed out along the police barricades at the edge of the plaza asked the demonstrators to reconvene at the city's public library later in the day.