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Police dismantle Oakland camp, protesters on march

Tents and debris are shown on Frank Ogawa Plaza after protesters with Occupy Oakland were removed in Oakland
Tents and debris are shown on Frank Ogawa Plaza after protesters with Occupy Oakland were removed in Oakland

By Laird Harrison

OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - Police forcibly evicted anti-Wall Street protesters from their camp in downtown Oakland early on Monday, setting the stage for possible showdowns with some demonstrators who vowed to dig in after marching through the streets.

Throngs of protesters headed back to Frank Ogawa Plaza in the late afternoon, regrouping hours after officers in riot gear cleared the area and arrested 33 people as they removed about 100 tents. But the police action avoided clashes that marked a previous attempt to shut down the encampment.

"This movement cannot end!" a speaker told the crowd as the march began outside a downtown library. Police largely stood back, and at one point even stopped traffic for the marchers, who authorities said could return to the plaza so long as they did not camp there.

The march ended peacefully with activists huddling in a "general assembly" meeting, with speakers divided between those who urged rebuilding their camp in defiance of police and those who advocated various other tactics.

Recent unrest surrounding the Oakland encampment has helped rally nationwide support for Occupy Wall Street, a movement launched in New York in September to protest economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.

By late evening, Oakland crowds had largely dissipated after a consensus emerged to join a march and rally planned for Tuesday by students and faculty on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley.

The daylong Berkeley strike was called in response to a confrontation last week with campus police who cleared out a short-lived encampment there and arrested 39 protesters. Organizers said their rally on Tuesday would culminate with the "reestablishment" of their "Occupy Cal Encampment."

The move to clear out Ogawa Plaza, after nearly a month of indecision on how to handle the Oakland protests, came days after a fatal shooting near the encampment fueled renewed pressure on the city to close it down.

Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said the shooting death of Kayode Ola Foster, 25, last Thursday left him no choice but to again dismantle the encampment.

"We had to take action. I tried to do it the next day (following the shooting) but I didn't have the resources ready. I was going to go all in," he said.

Jordan said it was unclear if Foster had been living in the protest camp but that the suspected gunman had been there for several weeks. Occupy Oakland organizers have said the incident was unrelated to their movement.

Officers in the early morning raid on Ogawa Plaza appeared to take a less aggressive approach than in a similar action three weeks earlier, and were met with less resistance from Occupy Oakland demonstrators.

"We had to bring the camps to an end before more people got hurt," Mayor Jean Quan told a news conference later.

Monday's action saw officers sometimes smiling and talking with protesters as they took down tents while a helicopter overhead illuminated the area. A separate line of officers kept a chanting crowd from entering the camp.

Meanwhile, several blocks away from Ogawa Plaza, some 40 tents remained standing at a separate park where a smaller group of demonstrators said they have been camping with relatively little attention paid for the past few weeks.

Protesters there said they too had received eviction notices from the police on Sunday but that no move had been made to force them to leave the park.

MOVE PROMPTS RESIGNATION

The decision to evict the camp at Ogawa Plaza prompted the resignation of a top adviser to Quan, whose handling of the protests has come under withering criticism. The adviser, Dan Siegel, called the move a mistake.

"I don't know if it will remain calm or if it will become very volatile," Siegel told Reuters in an interview.

Quan, asked about Siegel's resignation, said only: "He's moving on, I'm moving on."

City officials said there were no injuries to citizens or officers and that Ogawa Plaza, where protesters had camped for about a month, would reopen for peaceful demonstrations.

Taxi driver Brad Newsham, holding a placard with the slogan "Re-Occupy," said: "We were moved off by the 1 percent and the powers that be."

A previous attempt to clear the square on October 25 had sparked confrontations between protesters and police that evolved into one of the most violent episodes since the anti-Wall Street movement began in New York.

Former Marine Scott Olsen was critically injured during those altercations, galvanizing protests nationwide. In the aftermath of the confrontations, Oakland protesters were able to return to the plaza.

Oakland is one of just several cities where authorities have acted in recent days to shut down Occupy camps, saying they have become sources of rising crime.

In Eureka, California, early on Monday, police arrested 33 people in dismantling a protest camp there.

The weekend saw police clearing operations in Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as well as threats of action in other cities if protesters did not clear out on their own.

In St. Louis, where 27 anti-Wall Street protesters were arrested on Saturday, attorneys for members of Occupy St. Louis planned to take their battle to regain a downtown campsite to federal court on Tuesday.

They were seeking an injunction that would allow an overnight presence in Kiener Plaza, the downtown city park near the Gateway Arch where protesters against economic inequality maintained a camp for six weeks.

Meanwhile in New York, protesters said they would seek to shut-down Wall Street on Thursday by holding a street carnival to mark the two-month anniversary of their campaign.

Organizers acknowledged that the move could be the group's most provocative yet and could lead to mass arrests and further strain relations with city authorities.

(Additional reporting by Emmett Berg, Jim Christie, Noel Randewich, Dan Levine, Peter Henderson, Mary Slosson, Dan Whitcomb, Bruce Olson and Chris Francescani; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)

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