(Reuters) - Police fired tear gas at hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters on Saturday who tried to take over a shuttered convention center, arresting 19 people in the latest clash between anti-Wall Street activists and authorities in the Bay Area city.
Three officers were injured during the confrontation, which police said erupted when the crowd began destroying construction equipment and tearing down fencing at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in downtown Oakland.
Officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares, the Oakland Police Department said in a statement. The Oakland Police Department deployed smoke and tear gas.
The scuffles marked the latest confrontation between police and Occupy activists seeking to regain lost momentum in their movement against economic inequality after authorities cleared protest camps around the country late last year.
Occupy Oakland organizers had vowed to take over the fenced-off building to establish a new headquarters for their movement and draw attention to homelessness in a move seen as a challenge to authorities who have blocked similar efforts before.
Near the convention center, several dozen police officers declared an unlawful assembly and confronted the demonstrators at a fence, firing smoke and tear gas canisters into the crowd after telling protesters to disperse through loudspeakers.
The crowd fell back as the smoke hit, but then made a second push toward the fence, where they were held back by officers.
Some crowd members, carrying shields made of plastic garbage cans and corrugated metal, tried to circumvent the police line, and surged toward police as more smoke canisters were fired.
The City of Oakland welcomes peaceful forms of assembly and freedom of speech, but acts of violence, property destruction and overnight lodging will not be tolerated, police said in a statement.
Following the confrontation, many of the demonstrators dispersed, while hundreds more returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, where they said they would march on another abandoned building.
Protesters in Oakland loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last year have repeatedly clashed with police during a series of marches and demonstrations.
In October, former Marine Scott Olsen was left in critical condition with a head injury following a confrontation with police on the streets of Oakland in which tear gas was deployed.
Organizers said Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. Authorities opened an investigation into that incident but have not said how they believe he was hurt.
(Reporting by Laird Harrison; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)