NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of anti-Wall Street protesters rallied in Times Square on Saturday, buoyed by a global day of demonstrations backing their month long campaign against economic inequality.
Inspired by the grass-roots Occupy Wall Street movement, protests started in Asia and Europe and rippled around to the United States and Canada. Demonstrations were held in dozens of cities including Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto.
After weeks of intense media coverage, the size of the U.S. protests have been smaller than Group of 20 meetings or political conventions have yielded. Such events often draw tens of thousands of demonstrators.
In New York, organizers said the protest grew to at least 5,000 people as they marched to Times Square in midtown Manhattan from their outdoor headquarters in the financial district. The movement began when protesters set up camp in a Lower Manhattan park on September 17.
“It’s not every day that you get to be at the most significant uprising in a generation,” Occupy Wall Street said on its Facebook page. Protesters said they did not have any police permits for the New York demonstrations.
Banging drums, the protesters chanted, “We got sold out, banks got bailed out” and “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street” as they marched, staying on the sidewalks as directed by police.
Some were disappointed the New York crowd was not larger.
“People don’t want to get involved. They’d rather watch on TV,” said Troy Simmons, 47, who joined demonstrators as he left work. “The protesters could have done better today. ... People from the whole region should be here and it didn’t happen.”
The Times Square mood was akin to New Year’s Eve, when the famed “ball drop” occurs. In a festive mood, protesters were joined by throngs of tourists snapping pictures, together counting back from 10 and shouting, “Happy New Year.”
Another 5,000 marched through Los Angeles and gathered peacefully outside City Hall.
Police said three people were arrested in Times Square after pushing down police barriers and five men were arrested earlier for wearing masks. Police also arrested 24 people at a Citibank branch in Manhattan, mostly for trespassing.
Citibank was not immediately available for comment.
At about 8 p.m., police arrested another 42 people for blocking the sidewalk. Protesters complained they had no place to go with a wall of police in riot gear in front of them and thousands of demonstrators behind them leaving Times Square.
The protest arrived in Times Square at a time when the area was crowded with tourists and Broadway theatergoers.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has been gathering steam over the past month, culminating with the global day of action on Saturday. The protests worldwide were mostly peaceful apart from Rome, where the demonstration sparked riots.
But it was unclear whether the movement, which has been driven using social media, would sustain momentum beyond Saturday. Critics have accused the group of not having a clear message.
The protesters say they are upset that the billions of dollars in bank bailouts doled out during the recession allowed banks to resume earning huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share in taxes and want a more equitable economic system.
“These protests are already making a difference,” said Jordan Smith, 25, a former substance abuse counselor from San Francisco, who has been at the New York park for 10 days. “The dialogue is now happening all over the world.”
In Toronto, about 2,000 people gathered peacefully and started to set up a camp in a park. In Washington, Miami, Chicago and Boston hundreds of protesters marched through the streets.
“I am going to start my life as an adult in debt and that’s not fair,” student Nathaniel Brown told Reuters Television. “Millions of teenagers across the country are going to start their futures in debt, while all of these corporations are getting money fed all the time and none of us can get any.”
In Miami about 500 protesters turned out carrying posters that read “People not profits,, “This is the 2nd American Revolution” and “Heal America, tax Wall Street.”
In Los Angeles, Michael Goodblatt, 29, a doctor at UCLA Medical Center, was at the protest with a group of doctors. He said they had all seen first hand how people had suffered during the recession.
“These are our people and we want to show our support because this affects everyone,” Goodblatt said.
Hundreds of people have been arrested at rallies in New York. Hundreds more have also been arrested from Boston and Washington to Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego and Austin, Texas.
On Friday, a showdown between protesters and police was averted when the private owner of the publicly accessible Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, postponed a cleanup. The Occupy Wall Street movement feared the cleanup was a ruse to remove them from the area.
Additional reporting by Cameron French in Toronto, Pascal Fletcher in Miami, Ian Simpson in Washington, Karl Plume in Chicago, Jim Finkle in Boston and R.T. Watson in Los Angeles and Ray Sanchez in New York, writing by Michelle Nichols, editing by Ian Simpson