PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - Portland Police arrested more than 50 people on Sunday as the authorities cleared out and blocked off encampments of the Occupy movement that has been protesting nationwide over economic issues.
The Portland actions were among several by authorities around the country over the weekend to try to close down encampments occupied by demonstrators for weeks.
Encampments sprang up in several cities in recent weeks in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York in September to protest what demonstrators see as economic inequality and undue political influence by corporate interests.
In Portland the authorities had issued an eviction notice, and then moved to empty the camps and fence them off. Many protesters left on their own after the notice, but others chose to stay.
A police statement said: “the Portland Police Bureau has cleared both Chapman and Lownsdale Square parks. During today’s operation, more than 50 arrests were made of people who either wanted to be arrested or refused to leave Chapman Square.”
There were no injuries during the park clearance, police said.
But demonstrators regrouped in the streets, blocking traffic for hours in a standoff with ranks of Portland Police officers in riot gear.
The confrontation continued into late afternoon, but as darkness fell protesters left the streets.
A core group moved to a downtown square for speeches and to discuss their next moves and where they would spend the night, as a light rain hit the city.
More than 300 officers, including those from 10 other law enforcement agencies, had participated in the authorities’ actions during the day, Portland Police said.
On the protester side, an estimated thousand people joined in demonstrating in the streets.
During the afternoon confrontation police, face-to-face with the protesters, repeatedly told them that if they didn’t move out of the road, or appeared to resist arrest, chemical agents and impact weapons — apparently beanbag guns — might be used.
On their side the protesters chanted: “I don’t see no riot here, take off your riot gear,” “The whole world is watching,” and “We are peaceful people.”
Officials also moved over the weekend to dismantle a protest camp in Salt Lake City, Utah, while in Denver, police on Saturday removed mattresses, cooking grills and tents illegally placed on a public sidewalk.
Seventeen people were arrested, Denver police said on Sunday.
This weekend’s actions were the latest as officials in a number of cities have cited health and safety issues in urging Occupy demonstrators to take down their camps, or as the basis for police actions to shut them down.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams in comments to CNN on Sunday linked that city’s camps to increases in crime and drug overdoses, and said an arsonist had used a camp as camouflage for his efforts.
While Adams expressed sympathy for protester goals, he said the Occupy movement needed to evolve beyond encampments “in order to get the kind of reforms we need.”
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter on Sunday ordered beefed-up police patrols at the city’s protest site, saying conditions were “dramatically deteriorating.”
“This movement has changed and the people have changed,” he said. “We are now at a critical point where we must reevaluate our entire relationship with this very changed group.”
In Salt Lake City authorities moved to dismantle a camp at a downtown park and arrested 15 people on Saturday.
In Oakland, California, the scene of previous clashes between police and demonstrators, city hall issued a third eviction notice on Sunday. It warned protesters they faced “immediate arrest” if they continued to camp out in the city’s plaza and parks.
The city offered alternative emergency accommodation at two local area homeless shelters, and laid on a shuttle service to one that was not within walking distance of the encampments.
In St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay has warned protesters they have to decamp but has offered to continue talks to find a permanent place for the protest.
Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, Dave Warner in Philadelphia, and Bruce Olson in St. Louis; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton