Police in riot gear and biohazard suits removed anti-Wall Street activists from an encampment outside the Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, arresting an estimated 200 people as they enforced the mayor's eviction order.
Busloads of police closed in on the 8-week-old Occupy LA camp after midnight and declared the hundreds of protesters congregated on the lawn, sidewalks and streets around City Hall to be an unlawful assembly, ordering them to disperse or face arrest.
The Los Angeles encampment, which officials had tolerated for weeks even as other cities moved in to clear out similar compounds, was among the largest on the West Coast aligned with a 2-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality and excesses of the U.S. financial system.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had originally welcomed the protesters, even supplying them with ponchos for inclement weather. But as city officials complained of crime, sanitation problems and property damage they blamed on the camp, the mayor decided the group had to go.
He initially set an eviction deadline for 12:01 a.m. Monday but city officials held off on enforcing it for 48 hours in the hope that protesters would drift away on their own.
The strategy appeared to pay off, with police avoiding the use of tear gas or pepper spray that marked evictions of Occupy protesters in Oakland and other cities. Except for some minor initial scuffles with police, the crowd was boisterous but mostly peaceful.
By contrast, about 100 Occupy protesters in Philadelphia peacefully vacated their camp early on Wednesday after police moved in and warned protesters they faced arrest unless they left on their own, police said. In Boston, city officials are laying the legal ground work for evicting Occupy Boston protestors from a camp set up in Dewey Square. Park.
At least 20 protesters in Los Angeles left the area as soon as police moved in early Wednesday, carrying tents and other belongings out of the camp. Later, a number of others were escorted out by police after apparently agreeing to walk away without resisting.
Officers then swept into the park, arresting anyone who refused to leave and dismantling the camp. Tents were pulled down and flattened after police peeked inside each one with a flashlight.
Police Commander Andrew Smith said about 200 people were arrested, mostly hold-outs who defied orders to clear the area. Several were removed from trees.
Police Lieutenant Andy Neiman said before the operation that some protesters had been reported to be storing human waste at the site for unknown reasons. He later said police entering the camp encountered "a horrible stench." The grounds were strewn with collapsed tents, trash and other debris.
Police said the eviction operation involved more than 1,000 officers.
Fireworks were set off as the crowd grew steadily more raucous before police arrived. Many protesters chanted, "Move your feet, Occupy the street!"
Protester Anthony Candelaria, 21, a Los Angeles college student among the crowd gathered at City Hall, said before the raid began that he planned to "hold the fort down until they drag us out by our feet."
Shortly after the eviction began, Villaraigosa issued a statement saying the city was taking a "measured approach to enforcing the park closure."
"We have wanted to give people every opportunity to leave peacefully," he said. Visiting the site with Police Chief Charlie Beck near the end of the raid, the mayor praised officers for their "professional and restrained" conduct.
In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee offered anti-Wall Street activists occupying a park in the city's financial district an alternate location for their camp. The group met Tuesday night to discuss the proposed Mission District site and the mayor's list of conditions for using it. The offer included land for pitching tents and a building with restrooms.
Los Angeles Protesters had started moving onto the City Hall park on October 1 and within weeks the encampment had grown to include 500 tents and 700 to 800 full-time residents.
Their number diminished sharply after Villaraigosa announced last week that he wanted protesters to vacate the grounds by Monday or be forcibly removed.
After the eviction deadline passed, the status of the camp had remained in limbo. Attorneys for Occupy LA asked a federal judge for a court order barring police from shutting it down, arguing city officials had violated their civil rights by ordering the camp dismantled. The judge has made no ruling.
The mayor has promised to find a shelter for homeless people who had taken up residence at City Hall and were estimated to account for at least a third of the camp.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Jackie Frank and Bill Trott)