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TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) - Police have raided a sprawling protest camp of homeless people in Tucson, Arizona, and arrested six people, including the leader of the demonstration, on charges including possession and sale of drugs, authorities said on Friday.
The raid late on Thursday followed a weeks-long operation during which undercover officers purchased narcotics 20 times from a dozen people in the city's Veinte de Agosto Park, the original site of Tucson's Occupy protest.
The number of people at the site has grown in recent weeks. More than 70 live on sidewalks in coffin-like "pods" in what organizers say is a protest against views among members of the public that homeless people are criminals.
A federal lawsuit over the camp's legality is pending, and a hearing to discuss the pods is scheduled for Tuesday.
The Tucson Police Department said its Street Narcotics Unit launched an investigation after receiving many complaints about the use and sale of marijuana and other drugs in the area.
During the operation, police said, officers working undercover bought drugs including methamphetamine, marijuana and Xanax from 12 different suspects in and around the park.
Police said protest leader Jon McLane, an Iraq war veteran and original organizer of the Occupy Tucson movement, was arrested and charged with one count each of sale and possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Five other people were booked on charges including resisting arrest, selling marijuana, and possession of a dangerous drug for sale, the department said in a statement.
McLane, who was not listed as a prisoner in the Pima County jail on Friday, could not immediately be reached by phone.
He was among Occupy protesters who sued Tucson in 2011 saying the city's arrest of sidewalk campers violated the constitutional right to protest on public property.
A federal judge ruled the camp could remain under the protection of a temporary injunction, pending the resolution of the lawsuit. Lawyers for the city have asked for clarification, saying the pods are not covered by the judge's ruling.
Hours before his arrest, McLane showed a Reuters reporter around the relatively clean and orderly-looking camp, including 36 twin bed-sized pods and more than a dozen tents set up along several blocks of sidewalks.
"We just don't want it to be a crime to be homeless," said McLane, who has lived on the streets since the Occupy movement and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2011.
Reporting by Brad Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham