ATLANTA — Police guarded newly-cleared plazas early Wednesday in Atlanta and Oakland, Calif., after clearing Occupy Wall Street protest camps in both cities. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested in swift crack-downs by riot squads after local authorities lost patience with the rallies.
Helicopters hovered and trained spotlights on downtown Atlanta as police in riot gear moved into a small city park just after midnight and arrested more than 50 protesters who had been there in tents for about two weeks.
Police and some neighbors in cities around the country have started losing patience as protesters prepare to settle in for winter in camps without running water or working toilets. Businesses and residents near New York's Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters of the movement that began in mid-September, are demanding something be done to discourage the hundreds of protesters from urinating in the street and making noise at all hours.
In Oakland, riot police cleared protesters from in front of City Hall on Tuesday morning, leaving a sea of overturned tents, protest signs and trash strewn across the plaza. Hundreds of officers and sheriff's deputies went into the two week-old encampment with tear gas and beanbag rounds around 5 a.m., police said.
Eighty-five people were arrested, mostly on suspicion of misdemeanor unlawful assembly and illegal camping. About 170 protesters were at the site.
Early Wednesday, police stood guard and metal barricades surrounded Atlanta's Woodruff Park, which was where — like in many American cities — protesters had camped out to rally against what they see as corporate greed and a wide range of other economic issues. Before police marched in, protesters were warned a couple times around midnight to vacate the park or risk arrest.
Inside the park, the warnings were drowned out by drumbeats and chants of "Our park!"
Organizers had instructed participants to be peaceful if arrests came, and most were. Many gathered in the center of the park, locking arms, and sang "We Shall Overcome," until police led them out, one-by-one to waiting buses. Some were dragged out while others left on foot, handcuffed with plastic ties.
Oakland was less peaceful. Police fired tear gas and beanbag rounds as they cleared out the makeshift city Tuesday. After nightfall, protesters gathered at a downtown library and began marching toward City Hall in an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area of the disbanded camp.
They were met by police in riot gear. Officers cleared the area by firing tear gas over a roughly three-hour stretch of evening scuffles.
In Atlanta, State Sen. Vincent Fort was among those arrested after coming to the park in support of the protesters. He said the police presence was "overkill."
"He's using all these resources ... This is the most peaceful place in Georgia," Fort said, referring to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. "At the urging of the business community, he's moving people out. Shame on him."
Police included SWAT teams in riot gear, dozens of officers on motorcycles and several on horseback. By about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday the park was mostly cleared of protesters.
"It's real simple: This is a crisis of priorities that this small group of campers ... is the greatest threat in this city. It's outrageous," said organizer Tim Franzen.
The protesters who were arrested have bond hearings at Atlanta Municipal Court starting at 8 a.m., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Several protesters with signs waited outside the courtroom for the hearings to begin.
Reed said he was upset over an advertised hip-hop concert that he said drew 600 people to the park over the weekend but didn't have a permit and didn't have security guards to work the crowd, calling it irresponsible.
Reed told reporters he had serious security concerns that he said were heightened Tuesday when a man was seen in the park with an assault rifle. The mayor said authorities could not determine whether the weapon was loaded, and were unable to get additional information about it.
An Associated Press reporter talked to the man with the gun slung across his back earlier Tuesday as he walked in the park. He wouldn't give his name, but said he was an out-of-work accountant who doesn't agree with the protesters' views, but was there, armed, because he wanted to protect the rights of people to protest. There's no law that prevents him from carrying the weapon in public, but several police followed him for about 10 minutes before moving off.
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