OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - Police and protesters scuffled in the streets of Oakland on Tuesday as more than 1,000 people marched on city hall to voice anger over scores of arrests at an “Occupy Wall Street” camp.
Police dispersed the crowd once with what appeared to be a stun grenade and several other times set off tear gas to drive the demonstrators away from a downtown plaza that had been at the center of the conflict.
Witnesses reported seeing several people taken into custody during the confrontations, but an Oakland police spokeswoman said the department would not confirm any Tuesday night arrests until Wednesday.
Protest leaders said the march aimed at reclaiming Frank Ogawa Plaza, which had served as a base for two weeks of protests against economic inequality in the city until police cleared it before dawn by firing beanbags and tear gas.
The area remained cordoned off with metal barricades and guarded by police for the remainder of the day, though Oakland city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said that, once cleaned, it would be reopened to allow daytime demonstrations.
About 350 people were in the plaza when police began to clear the area, Boyd said, confirming that officers deployed beanbags and gas. There were no reports of injuries but least 85 people had been arrested on charges of camping or assembling without a permit in the plaza.
The city said in a statement it had told protesters last Thursday to cease overnight camping and cooking at the plaza. More warnings were issued on Friday and Monday.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement that the city had maintained daily communication with the protesters and thanked those who “peacefully complied with city officials.”
“Over the last week it was apparent that neither the demonstrators nor the city could maintain safe or sanitary conditions, or control the ongoing vandalism,” Quan said.
The city said conditions at the plaza had begun to deteriorate by the second week of the protests, with police, fire and medical responders reporting they were denied access to the plaza for service calls.
The city also said it had received reports of a sexual assault and a severe beating, and that sanitation had worsened a rodent control problem in the plaza. Officials also said the plaza was damaged by graffiti, litter and vandalism.
But the move angered protesters, who accused the city of using heavy-handed tactics, and they assembled again in the afternoon for the march on city hall, vowing to retake the plaza.
As more than 1,000 people marched through the streets, a small group scuffled with police not far from downtown and several were arrested.
The bulk of the crowd headed for city hall. At Frank Ogawa plaza, police ordered protesters to disperse and were largely met with cooperation.
“I’m here because I’m incredibly sad and incredibly angry, protester Samsarah Morgan, 51, said. “I’m hoping our city government comes to their senses and stops dealing with us like a fascist state.”
Morgan said she founded a “children’s village” at the Occupy Oakland encampment and was worried about four children who had stayed in tents there.
Jeremy Tully, the 30-year-old employee of an Internet company who was handing out flyers for an upcoming Marxist conference in Berkeley, called the city’s action an unnecessary show of force.
“I left work early today to come and stand up against the kind of repression that happened this morning,” Tully said.
The protest was the Oakland version of the movement launched more than a month ago as Occupy Wall Street in New York.
The protesters are angry at government bailouts of big banks, persistent high unemployment, and economic inequality in the United States. Demonstrations have spread across the nation and overseas, although crowds remain relatively small in most cities.
Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in New York since the protests began. There have also been numerous arrests in other cities.
In the last week, Chicago police arrested about 130 protesters in Grant Park, the site of President Barack Obama’s victory speech on election night in 2008, and another 15 people at a protest in Philadelphia.
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Emmett Berg and David Bailey; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston