Eleven arrested in San Francisco protest

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:44pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Police arrested 11 demonstrators for blocking access to Wells Fargo's corporate headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday, and the city's famed cable cars were halted for two hours during protests against economic inequality, officials said.

The 11 arrested at Wells Fargo were issued citations for trespassing after occupying an entrance to the building, prompting bank officials to briefly shut down the office tower, San Francisco police officer Albie Esparza said.

A separate Wells Fargo bank branch around the corner was closed for the day due to the protests, Esparza said.

"Our role here was to allow and facilitate First Amendment rights and make sure peace was maintained. And it was a peaceful protest," Esparza said.

The gathering was part of a growing number of rallies that have sprung up from Wall Street demonstrations that began last month, protesting against unemployment woes, disparities in wealth and government bailouts of major banks.

Earlier in the day, a rally by anti-Wall Street protesters prompted the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to halt service on its famed cable car lines for nearly two hours, transit spokesman Paul Rose told Reuters.

"From what we could gather, we don't think they were trying to block service," he said. "They had just gathered in that area, and we held service until they cleared." No arrests were reported.

Roughly 100 to 200 protesters marched to the Wells Fargo site from the U.S. Federal Reserve building, according to Pete Woiwode, 28, a protest organizer who spoke with Reuters by cell phone from the scene.

"Wells Fargo is a good target because they have been very involved in the foreclosure crisis, kicking people out of their homes," Woiwode said. "Our message is: Stop kicking people out of their homes, start paying your taxes."

Police escorted Wells Fargo employees in and out of the headquarters through a secure entryway after first closing access to the entire building for about 15 minutes, company spokesman Ruben Pulido said.

"Wells Fargo recognizes that Americans are demanding more from their financial institutions during these difficult economic times," Wells Fargo said in a written statement.

"In addition to repaying the U.S. government $25 billion for the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds in December 2009, Wells Fargo paid an additional $1.4 billion in dividends to the U.S. Treasury as well; that was a strong return on investment for the government."

By midday, the protest had dispersed from the area.

(Writing by Mary Slosson; additional reporting by Mary Slosson and Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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