Occupy Wall Street activists on Thursday clashed with workers and police outside the New York Stock Exchange on the movement’s two-month anniversary, in a brazen manifestation of their symbolic anti-capitalist push.
As hundreds linked hands to block access to the NYSE building, one man in a blue business suit wrestled with a protester in a cowboy hat, one of several violent scuffles. About 25 people were arrested, an Agence France-Presse correspondent saw.
Chanting “Wall Street’s closed!” “We are the 99%” and “Whose street? Our street!” about 1 000 demonstrators engaged in a tense face-off with hundreds of police, including many on horseback outside the iconic exchange.
The protests were part of a “Global Day of Action” announced by the website occupywallst.org, with demonstrations across the US combined with protests in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Poland and Spain.
Camps torn down
In London, protesters were waiting nervously as a deadline to leave their camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral by 6pm GMT neared.
The level of participation in the rallies could provide a clear indication of Occupy Wall Street’s clout exactly two months since the movement sprang up to denounce big corporate business and the world’s wealthiest “1%”.
The day of protest also came after New York police earlier this week cleared out the cradle of the movement, a tent camp erected in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on September 17.
Security forces have also torn down protest camps in several US cities including Oakland, Portland and Dallas, and the Occupy movement finds itself with less space to occupy and its future in doubt.
In New York, protesters vowed to avenge their eviction by marching on the stock exchange, then rallying on the city’s subway and major bridges.
While the stock market opened on time at 2:30pm GMT, protesters managed a 45-minute blockade outside the NYSE. Police eventually intervened to break through, establishing a corridor to escort Wall Street traders and workers.
“You want a fight?” a police officer yelled at the crowd.
Amid chaotic scenes, police then moved in to clear the street and ensuing clashes sent police and protesters clattering to the ground. Several protesters were handcuffed and dragged into police trucks.
Others were corralled by barricades and police in a tense standoff near Zuccotti Park, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the demolition of the protest camp that had become the symbolic heart of the movement against economic inequality.
“We need to show we are bigger than Zuccotti Park, that we are resilient, that we refuse to submit to brutal police tactics,” said Jessica Lingel (28) a librarian from New Jersey.
The New York protesters were urged to also meet at underground rail hubs “and take our own stories to the trains.” A rally on a major square near police headquarters and various courthouses was scheduled for later, followed by a march across bridges, likely meaning the nearby Brooklyn Bridge.
By mid-morning the group was already claiming victory and at least one exasperated New York cop seemed to agree.
“They’ve blocked everything off. This is what happens when you kick them out of the park: you stir a hornet’s nest,” said the officer who would not provide his name.
Authorities “should have left them in the park. They wanted to disrupt Wall Street, and they’ve done it.”
New York Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson went on CNN on Thursday to stress the protesters have the right to demonstrate peacefully but warned the city will not tolerate masses of people blocking Brooklyn Bridge traffic.
“If people break the law, then obviously we’ll deal with that,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how many people would participate in rallies planned in other US and foreign cities that have embraced the OWS cause, including places such as Atlanta, Detroit, Portland and the capital, Washington.
According to www.occupywallst.org, Spanish university students in a dozen cities will go on strike and a demonstration was planned in Madrid, where the “indignant” protests were a precursor of the “occupy” movement.
Greek police fired tear gas against black-clad youths protesting against austerity, one day after a national unity government took office charged with imposing painful tax rises and spending cuts to save Greece from bankruptcy.
More than 30 000 people marched past shuttered shops in central Athens beating drums, waving red flags and chanting “EU, IMF out!” in the first public test for technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and his quarrelsome, three-party coalition.
The annual November 17 march commemorates a bloody student uprising against Greece’s military junta in 1973 but often becomes a focal point for anti-government protesters.
Unions have said they would use this year’s rally to send a warning to Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank with no political experience, to reverse policies they say have sent Greece into a “death spiral”.
“They have cut my pension twice. This man Papademos is worse than the previous leader. He is a banker. If he dares to take any more austerity measures, we will throw them out,” said pensioner Xeni Kolen (64). Reuters, AFP