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domingo, 30 de outubro de 2011

Tenn. protesters to challenge curfew for 3rd night

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Occupy Wall Street protesters and state officials in Tennessee squared off for a third consecutive night Saturday, even though a local judge has consistently refused to jail the demonstrators and said the state lacks the authority to set a curfew on the property.

The Nashville arrests came after a week of police crackdowns around the U.S. on Occupy Wall Street activists, who have been protesting economic inequality and what they call corporate greed.

In Oakland, California, an Iraq War veteran was seriously injured during a protest clash with police Tuesday night. In Atlanta, helicopters hovered overhead Wednesday as officers in riot gear arrested more than 50 protesters at a downtown park. In San Diego, police arrested a similar number of people who occupied the Civic Center Plaza and Children's Park for three weeks.

In Denver, a standoff between protesters and police near the steps of the Colorado Capitol erupted into a clash Saturday.

The situation downtown escalated when some supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement marching in a group of about 2,000 tried to advance up the Capitol steps. About eight officers scuffled with a group of protesters, according to The Denver Post. Police confirmed that they used pepper spray and either rubber bullets or pepper balls to break up the crowd.

Denver police spokesman Matt Murray said seven people were arrested, including two for assault and one for disobedience.

In Nashville, magistrate Tom Nelson has said there's no legal reason to keep the demonstrators behind bars and he has released them after each arrest. He has refused each night to sign off on arrest warrants for more than two dozen people taken into custody.

Some legal experts agreed with the judge.

The arrests appeared to be a violation of First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution that allow for people to peacefully assemble, said attorney David Raybin, a former prosecutor. He and others said the nature of the arrests, coupled with the judge's refusal to sign off on the warrants, could become ammunition for lawsuits.

"The government is exposing itself to serious liability here by doing this," Raybin said.

Nelson did not return an email and a phone number for him could not be found.

The curfew at the Legislative Plaza, which state troopers began enforcing Thursday night, runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Others questioned the timing of the curfew. The protesters had been demonstrating for about three weeks before it took effect, a point that Nelson said he factored into his decision.

"You can't pass a curfew mid-protest because you disagree with this group of protesters," said criminal defense attorney Patrick Frogge, who is representing some of those arrested.

The state Department of Safety is carrying out the arrests. Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who until he joined the Haslam administration was the district attorney in Memphis, said he didn't have a role in developing the curfew but assured Haslam his department could enforce it.

Cecily Friday, one of the original Occupy Nashville protesters, said the administration's attempt to get rid of the demonstrators has "completely backfired."

"Over 1,000 people have been added to our Facebook page since the arrests," she said.

Among those arrested Friday night was journalist Jonathan Meador, who told troopers he was a reporter covering the story for the Nashville Scene alternative newspaper. On Saturday, the owner of the newspaper sent a letter to Haslam's staff.

"I expect the governor to publicly apologize to him for this violation of his rights and to assure the people of Tennessee that this administration will not interfere with the right to a free press that has been a fundamental right in this country since our founding," SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell wrote. "I'm sure you understand that every media outlet in this country will vigorously defend our right to cover government action without fear of arrest or reprisal."

In New York City, where the Occupy Wall Street movement began last month, a mix of snow, rain and slush made for sheer misery at the encampment in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Drenched protesters hunkered down in tents and under tarps as the plaza filled with rainwater and melted snow.

Technically, tents are banned in the park, but protesters say authorities have been looking the other way, even despite a crackdown on generators that were keeping them warm.

"I want to thank the New York Police Department," said 32-year-old protester Sam McBee, decked out in a yellow slicker and rain pants. "We're not supposed to have tents. We're not supposed to have sleeping bags. You go to Atlanta, they don't have it. You go to Oakland, you don't have it. And we got it."

More Wall Street protests were planned around California on Saturday, including in Oakland, where police and demonstrators clashed earlier this week. An evening rally against police brutality was scheduled in front of Oakland's city hall, and a march was expected to follow two hours later.

Protesters clashed with police on Tuesday after the encampment in front of city hall was cleared. Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, suffered a fractured skull during that confrontation, and his plight has become a rallying cry at Occupy protests around the world. Olsen remained in fair condition Friday at a hospital.

Meanwhile, the encampment at the plaza near city hall has returned and grown to about 50 tents, with organizers saying up to a thousand people were in the area late Friday with very few police in sight.

Events were also planned on Saturday in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and its suburbs. Protesters gathered at Van Nuys's city hall for an Occupy San Fernando Valley event, and a few dozen protesters marched peacefully through Lancaster, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, in the mostly rural Antelope Valley.

In California's agricultural heartland, officials were preparing to oust a group of about 30 demonstrators from next to a Fresno County courthouse. County officials said protesters had ignored some requirements of their permit, including limiting the gathering to about 20 people. They gave notice Friday that the permit would expire midnight Monday, and that demonstrators faced jail time and $500 fines if they remained.

In Britain, anti-capitalist demonstrators camped outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London said they are debating whether to move their protest amid a bid to evict them from the area outside the iconic building.

The protesters held an open-air meeting Saturday and discussed the possibility of moving their protest camp to one or more new sites.

The church reopened Friday after being closed for a week on health and safety grounds after hundreds of people began the protest against economic inequality.

It was the first time the 300-year-old church had closed since German planes bombed the city during World War II.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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