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.
Overnight on the East Coast, about 100 protesters from the Occupy movement in Philadelphia swiftly and peacefully vacated their camp but later 52 were arrested around the city on charges ranging from obstructing a highway to aggravated assault on a police officer, officials said.
In Los Angeles, 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, in line with an eviction order from the mayor.
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 alleged 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 protesters would drift away on their own.
The strategy appeared to pay off as police avoided using tear gas or pepper spray, which had marked evictions of Occupy protesters in other cities. Except for minor initial scuffles with police, the crowd was boisterous but mostly peaceful. Most of the eviction was finished in four hours.
In Philadelphia, protesters left their encampment in the plaza outside City Hall without incident shortly after 1 a.m./0600 GMT but confrontations a short time later at four locations resulted in arrests. Police said the arrests there were mostly for obstructing highways and failure to disperse.
In Los Angeles as police arrived at least 20 protesters had immediately abandoned their compound, toting tents and other belongings, and some others were escorted out by officers after apparently agreeing to walk away without resisting.
Officers then swept into the park, arresting anyone who refused to leave and dismantling the camp. 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.
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.
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.
(Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Writing by Steve Gorman and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Eric Beech, Jerry Norton and Bill Trott)