Police confront Oakland protesters with tear gas

OAKLAND, California, (Reuters) – Police in riot gear  clashed with protesters in Oakland in the early morning hours  today, firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators  lingering in the streets after a day of mostly peaceful rallies  against economic inequality and police brutality.
The confrontation, which erupted after midnight, appeared  aimed at preventing the protesters from expanding their  foothold in the streets around a public plaza that has become a  hub for demonstrations in the northern California city.
More than 200 officers, some of them ferried in aboard  buses, lined up shoulder to shoulder and donned gas masks, then  declared the crowd to be an unlawful assembly and fired volleys  of tear gas as protesters turned and ran.
A few activists paused to pick up canisters and hurl them  back at officers as they fled, while others threw rocks.
“This was peaceful until you came!” protesters shouted at  police. Police later charged the plaza with batons and more  tear gas to push protesters farther into center of the square.
The clashes in Oakland, which shot to the forefront of  nationwide anti-Wall Street protests after a former Marine was  badly injured in a rally last week, followed a day of rallies  that drew some 5,000 activists at their peak and shuttered the  busy Port of Oakland but failed to shut down the city.
At least one protester was carried away with an injury to  his leg, and another who had been placed under arrest, his  hands cuffed behind his back, lay on the ground with blood  streaming down his face.
About three dozen activists were arrested, lined up seated  along a street curb in plastic wrist restraints as they waited  to be taken away by police.
The anti-Wall Street activists, who complain bitterly about  a financial system they believe benefits mainly corporations  and the wealthy, had aimed to disrupt commerce with a special  focus on banks and other symbols of corporate America.
The clash with police turned into a tense stand-off as most  of the protesters retreated to Frank Ogawa Plaza, the large  outdoor square next to City Hall that has been a hub of the  so-called Occupy Oakland movement.
Police, meanwhile, formed a cordon along the northern  perimeter of the plaza about a block or two from its edge.  Other officers branched off toward other pockets of protesters  outside the plaza.
Many of the street lights in the area suddenly went dark as  the confrontation unfolded, but it was not clear whether they  were turned off or knocked out by a power disruption.
On Wednesday evening, an official said maritime operations  at the Oakland port, which handles about $39 billion a year in  imports and exports, had been “effectively shut down.”
Protesters, who streamed across a freeway overpass to  gather in front of the port gates, stood atop tractor-trailers  stopped in the middle of the street.
Others climbed onto scaffolding over railroad tracks as a  band played a version of the Led Zeppelin song “Whole Lotta  Love,” using amplifiers powered by stationary bike generators.
“Maritime area operations will resume when it is safe and  secure to do so,” the port said in a statement. A port  spokesman said officials hoped to reopen the facility this morning.
The atmosphere at the protests turned tense well before  police moved after when a protester was apparently struck by a  car in downtown Oakland. Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard  Jordan later said the pedestrian was taken to a local hospital  for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
Small groups were later seen in local TV images running  through the streets, trying to start small trash fires or  climbing on top of moving television news vans.
Windows were smashed at several Oakland banks and a Whole  Foods market, with pictures of the damage posted on Twitter.  Jordan blamed the vandalism and unruliness on a small group he  identified as anarchists.
The demonstrations centered at Ogawa Plaza, scene of a  tug-of-war last week between police who cleared an Occupy  Oakland encampment there and protesters who sought to return,  and ultimately succeeded in doing so.
Prior to marching on the port, protesters blocked the  downtown intersection of 14th Street and Broadway, where Iraq  war veteran Scott Olsen was wounded during a clash with police  on the night of Oct. 25.
It was the wounding of Olsen, a former Marine turned peace  activist who suffered a serious head injury during protests  last week, that seemed to galvanize protesters and broadened  their complaints to include police brutality.
Olsen remains in an Oakland hospital in fair condition.
Protest organizers say Olsen, 24, was struck by a tear gas  canister fired by police. Jordan opened an investigation into  the incident but has not said how he believes Olsen was hurt.


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