SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Police erected barricades on Thursday around a San Francisco park where hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters braced for eviction two days after failing to agree to a city plan for relocating their camp.
Occupy San Francisco is believed to be the largest of a dwindling number of West Coast protest settlements aligned with the national movement protesting economic inequality, after a larger group in Los Angeles was evicted earlier in the week.
The purpose of the barricades put up at the plaza was not immediately clear, but most police officers left after they were installed, and a raid there did not seem imminent.
A few hundred protesters, and about 100 tents, remained on Thursday at the city’s main Occupy site, located in Justin Herman Plaza in the Financial District.
But the activists were divided over whether to embrace a city plan to move them to the fenced-off grounds of a vacant school building about 2 miles away, or stay put and resist efforts to close their 2-month-old encampment at the plaza.
Mayor Ed Lee said the group’s decision does not need to be unanimous, but he wants to keep the protesters together.
“I think we’ll have a plan with them, hopefully, if they register with us some official motive on their part of what they want to do,” he told KGO-TV. “It doesn’t have to be unanimous. But I think we have to move everything together. I don’t think that we should have two camps, if you will.”
Shortly after police installed the barricades along three sides of the park, protesters bandied together to haul away the fencing from one side as more than a dozen officers stood by watching. Protesters then chanted “Cops go home.”
A block and a half away, demonstrators near the Federal Reserve building blocked traffic on the city’s main downtown thoroughfare and moved fencing set up there, leading to a scuffle with officers. But tensions gradually eased as police and protesters both withdrew.
Some of the demonstrators gathered at Justin Herman Plaza have insisted they want to remain in the Financial District, within view of major bank branches and upscale restaurants. Others expressed a willingness to move away to avoid the ongoing threat of eviction.
On Wednesday, a city negotiator told demonstrators that officials wanted tents gone from the current site by noon on Thursday, but stopped short of issuing an ultimatum.
The latest confrontation between police and demonstrators left some uneasy including Taylor Klahn, 29, from Los Angeles, who walked around the camp wearing a large backpack.
“I want all my stuff on me. I want to be mobile if they do raid,” he said as he nervously eyed officers on the fringe of the park. “If they give us a choice of whether to leave or get arrested, I honestly don’t know what I‘m going to do.”
In an overnight operation early on Wednesday, police in Los Angeles raided an Occupy camp in that city, pulling down tents and arresting nearly 300 people. Meanwhile the threat of a raid in Philadelphia prompted protesters to vacate a camp there.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston