L.A. cops move in after Occupiers defy eviction

Los Angeles Police Officers in riot gear push Occupy L.A. demonstrators back on the sidewalk in an attempt to clear the streets around Los Angeles City Hall after the deadline to dismantle the occupy campsite expired on November 28, 2011. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES - Wall Street protesters in Los Angeles defied the mayor's early Monday deadline to vacate their encampment near City Hall until police moved in about five hours later, cleared them out and arrested three people as protest turned more violent.

As the midnight deadline approached, hundreds of people flooded into the area as hundreds of tents remained standing as they have for nearly two months. A celebratory atmosphere filled the night with protesters milling about the park and streets by City Hall in seeming good spirits. A group on bicycles circled the block, one of them in a cow suit. Organizers led chants with a bull horn.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said earlier that the park grounds would be closed after the deadline, while Police Chief Charlie Beck promised that arrests would eventually be made if protesters did not comply.

But in a statement issued shortly before midnight, the mayor said police "will allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully and without disruption."

As the deadline approached, people poured into the grounds, likely many of them answering calls on Facebook and Twitter to come out and show solidarity.

Complete Coverage: Occupy Wall Street protests

Police presence was slight right after the 12:01 a.m. PST Monday deadline, but it began increasing as the morning wore on. At the same time, the number of protesters dwindled.

"People have been pretty cooperative tonight. We want to keep it peaceful," police Cmdr. Andrew Smith told The Associated Press.

"We're going to do this as gently as we possibly can. Our goal is not to have anybody arrested. Our goal is not to have to use force."

By 2:30 a.m., most protesters had moved from the campsite in the park to the streets. That put them technically in compliance with the mayor's eviction order.

But at 4:50 a.m., police on loudspeakers declared an unlawful assembly and protesters were told to get out of the street within five minutes, and the previously peaceful protest turned violent. People wearing masks taunted officers and water bottles were thrown at police in riot gear as authorities started clearing 1st and Main streets just after 5 a.m. Monday.

Commanders corralled demonstrations back to the City Hall park, telling them they won't be arrested there.

The Los Angeles showdown follows police actions in other cities — sometimes involving the use of pepper spray and tear gas — that resulted in the removal of long-situated demonstration sites. Some of those encampments had been in use almost since the movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.

Elsewhere, a deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for nearly two months passed Sunday without any arrests.

The scene outside Philadelphia's City Hall was quiet most of Sunday and by early Monday the numbers of protesters — and police officers — had decreased.

Philadelphia's protesters have managed to avoid aggressive confrontations so far. By early Monday there was still hope the City of Brotherly Love would continue to be largely violence-free.

But eight people were arrested in Maine Sunday after protesters in the Occupy Augusta encampment in Capitol Park took down their tents and packed their camping gear after being told to get a permit or move their shelters.

In Los Angeles, some campers packed up their tents and belongings to avoid police trouble, but said they intended to return without them in support of their fellow protesters.

Scott Shuster was one of those breaking down his camp, but he said it was only to protect his property and he planned to remain.

"I just don't want to lose my tent," he said.

Others moved their tents to the sidewalk so they were technically out of the park.

Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer himself, has said he sympathizes with the movement but that he felt it was time it moved beyond holding on to "a particular patch of park." He said public health and safety could not be sustained for a long period.

Beck told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that he expected to make arrests at some point.

"I have no illusions that everybody is going to leave," Beck said. "We anticipate that we will have to make arrests."

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