Police in riot gear close in on anti-Wall Street activists in Los Angeles early on Wednesday Link to this video
Police in riot gear have moved into the Occupy LA encampment outside City Hall to enforce the mayor’s order to evict protesters who have been camped out for the past eight weeks.
Hundreds of activists, joined by supporters streaming into the area in a show of solidarity, crowded the lawn, sidewalks and streets around City Hall as helmeted officers moved into the encampment.
Local television news showed large numbers of police, patrol cars, buses and other vehicles at Dodger stadium, a few miles away, in what appeared to be a major police staging operation.
The Los Angeles encampment, which officials had tolerated for weeks even as other cities moved in to clear out similar compounds, is among the largest on the west coast aligned with a two-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality and the excesses of the US financial system.
Protesters began arriving at the City Hall park on 1 Octctober, and within weeks the encampment had grown to include as many as 500 tents, with 700 to 800 full-time residents.
Their number diminished sharply after LA’s mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, announced last week that he wanted protesters to pack up their tents and other belongings and leave by Monday or face forcible removal.
That deadline came and went, however, with a force of 300 police closing in on the encampment early on Monday when protesters started to block traffic. But the police stopped short of clearing the camp and withdrew once they had reopened streets for Monday commuters.
Four people were arrested on suspicion of being present at an unlawful assembly.
Attorneys for Occupy LA have asked a federal judge for a court order barring police from shutting down the camp, arguing city officials had violated their civil rights by ordering it dismantled. The judge has not yet ruled.
Villaraigosa initially welcomed the protesters, going so far as to supply them with ponchos for inclement weather. But as city officials complained of crime, sanitation problems and property damage, the mayor decided the group had to go.
He issued his eviction notice last Friday after talks on a plan to induce the protesters to leave voluntarily collapsed, setting the stage for the latest showdown between leaders of a major US city and the Occupy movement.
The mayor has promised to find alternative shelter for the homeless people estimated to account for at least a third of those camped at City Hall.