Wounded veteran improving as protesters urge strike

OAKLAND Thu Oct 27, 2011 3:04pm EDT

1 of 3. Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran, is carried away after being injured during a demonstration in Oakland, California October 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jay Finneburgh

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OAKLAND (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran badly wounded in clashes between protesters and police was upgraded to fair condition on Thursday morning as activists called for a general strike against the Bay Area city.

A spokeswoman for Highland General Hospital in Oakland said that former U.S. Marine Scott Olsen, 24, had been upgraded from critical to fair condition overnight.

The spokeswoman declined to offer further details but friends said Olsen was breathing on his own and could undergo surgery in the next day or so.

Occupy Oakland organizers said they had voted to stage the strike next week, intending to shut down the city following what a spokeswoman called the "brutal and vicious" treatment of protesters, including Olsen.

Olsen, 24, has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide.

"We mean nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, we shut the city down," organizer Cat Brooks said. "The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don't understand that it's our money they need. We don't need them, they need us."

Spokeswomen for the city of Oakland and Mayor Jean Quan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brooks said a general strike was a "natural progression" following a crackdown by the city of Oakland early on Tuesday morning in which protesters were evicted from a plaza near city hall and 85 people were arrested.

Protesters sought to re-take that plaza on Tuesday night and were repeatedly driven back by police using stun grenades and tear gas. It was during one of those clashes that protesters say Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police.

A spokesman for Highland General Hospital in Oakland had said before Thursday that Olsen was in critical condition from injuries sustained during the protest, but could not say how he was hurt.

Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan had told a news conference his department was investigating the incident.

Olsen is believed to be the most seriously wounded person yet in confrontations between police and activists since Occupy Wall Street protests began last month in New York.

News of his injury ignited a furor among supporters of the protests. Activists in Oakland and elsewhere took to Twitter and other social media urging demonstrators back into the streets en masse.

More than 1,000 protesters moved onto the streets of Oakland again on Wednesday night as police largely kept their distance.

Friends say Olsen had been active in several anti-war veterans groups and had joined Oakland protesters in a gesture of solidarity after learning of the police crackdown there.

Keith Shannon, 24, who said he served with Olsen in Iraq, told Reuters his friend suffered a two-inch skull fracture and brain swelling.

Olsen served two tours in Iraq from 2006 to 2010 with the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Shannon said, adding that he and Olsen deployed together and were assigned to a tactical communications unit.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Ben Berkowitz, Emmett Berg and Mary Slosson; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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