Police and Los Angeles protesters skirmish


Police in riot gear held back on clearing out anti-Wall Street protesters who defied a deadline to abandon their 8-week-old encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall yesterday but opened streets for morning commuters before pulling back.

About 2,000 demonstrators remained at the Los Angeles site after a tense morning face-off with police.

Four demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of being present at an unlawful assembly during the brief confrontation. Police cleared the intersection where protesters had gathered to accommodate morning traffic and then withdrew from the immediate vicinity of the City Hall park.

Across the country, a Sunday deadline set by Philadelphia officials for Occupy protesters there to move out of a municipal plaza to came and went without incident.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had given protesters until 12:01 a.m. local time/5:01 a.m. British time to dismantle their tents and clear out of the park or face a forcible removal.

But about two hours after the eviction deadline, police commanders said they would permit the Occupy LA encampment to stay until at least daybreak. Police Commander Andrew Smith later said he thought it “highly unlikely” that the camp would be forced to shut down on Monday.

Dozens of people heeded the evacuation order but many tents and other structures stayed put. Police sources said authorities hoped the rest of the protesters would relocate voluntarily and that no major actions are expected before today.

The Los Angeles encampment is among the largest on the West Coast aligned with the 2-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality, high unemployment and excesses of the U.S. financial system.

Staking its place since October 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the Los Angeles compound grew to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, organizers and municipal officials said. At least a third of the people were believed to be homeless.

By Sunday night the size of the crowd outside City Hall swelled as supporters from organised labour, clergy, civil rights and other groups streamed into the area, answering a call for an 11th-hour show of support for the campers.

The overall number of protesters, some wearing gas masks, had grown to at least 2,000 by late Sunday, police estimated.

As the eviction deadline came and went, the protesters’ mood turned from calm and festive to rowdy. Demonstrators and police confronted each other but except for some debris thrown by protesters at one point, there was no violence.

The face-off grew tense when police ordered the protesters to clear the street and dozens of helmeted officers with night sticks and special shotguns for firing “bean-bag” projectiles enclosed the intersection and forced their way into the crowd.

Most in the crowd quickly retreated into the park, as onlookers chanted “Whose street? Our Street!”

Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group compared to other major cities, with Villaraigosa at one point providing ponchos to campers when it rained.

But after the collapse of negotiations aimed at persuading protesters to relocate voluntarily, the mayor said last week the encampment would have to go.

In a statement released Sunday evening, the mayor complimented the protesters for staying peaceful but added, “It is time for Occupy LA to move from focussing their efforts to hold a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and restoration of balance to American society.”

He said he hoped to avoid the sporadic violence that erupted in other cities when police used force against Occupy protesters.

A number of protesters early Monday credited the police with showing restraint, including Clark Davis, an Occupy LA organizer, who said to Smith and a group of other officers standing by, “You guys have been fantastic.”