Convention opens to protests, rubber bullets
Protesters scale a fence near the Democratic National Convention late Monday
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A festive protest concert outside the Democratic convention turned violent Monday night as demonstrators threw rocks and fired steel balls from slingshots at police who answered with pepper spray, rubber bullets and finally a charge on horseback. At least four people were hurt.
Police herded the protesters to the far end of a designated protest area. Officers in riot gear and carrying shotguns loaded with rubber bullets then swept toward the crowd, pushing them down a boulevard under a freeway overpass and away from the convention hall.
Gates on one side of the convention complex were closed as the Democrats' opening night ended and delegates began heading out.
By that time, most of the protesters had dispersed, making their way down side streets where they stood in small groups talking. In front of the main police line, 200 to 300 people remained, some standing at the front of the group and waving peace signs at police.
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The altercation began in an area designated for demonstrations near the Staples Center convention hall as thousands began to leave after a concert by the edgy rock band Rage Against the Machine.
Speeches by Hillary Clinton and then President Clinton continued inside with delegates generally unaware of the trouble outside.
Protesters threw pieces of concrete and water bottles, sprayed police with ammonia and fired steel balls and rocks from slingshots.
"We're deploying en masse," said California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Stan Perez.
One of the convention delegates, Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was caught in the melee as police cleared the protest area. He said officers shoved him and refused to let him through the line though he identified himself.
Protesters with bandannas over their faces lit several fires in the concert area. The ground around the officers was littered with rocks, broken bottles, sticks thrown over the fence from the crowd.
The confrontation originally involved about 300 people out of the crowd of 8,000 but then spread as more officers rushed to the scene.
One of the protesters, holding a black flag in one hand, clung to the fence about 8 feet up as police barraged him with balls of pepper spray, some striking him directly in the face.
A second man made it to the top of the fence, grabbed the large black flag and waved it. Both men waved the flags from the top of the fence, pelted continually with pepper spray.
The confrontation took place beneath a huge TV screen on the outside of the Staples Center carrying live video from the speeches inside. Mrs. Clinton had just finished speaking, and the president was starting.
Rage Against The Machine, known for its hard-driving sound, is anti-authoritarian and has campaigned in support of such figures as Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter on death row for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Before the trouble, the mood had been festive, with the Fire Department spraying a cooling shower of water over appreciative crowd members.
People in the audience threw empty water bottles and fake dollar bills -- left over from a protest against corporate greed -- into the air. Some near the stage jumped up and down to the music and others carried upside down American flags. Marijuana smoke wafted overhead.
Earlier Monday, police confronted demonstrators upset by Vice President Al Gore's ties to Occidental Petroleum Corp.
That group stopped at a busy intersection about six blocks from the convention hall. Police warned them to leave and then, minutes later, charged with batons and pushed back about 200 protesters. About 400 others watched from up the street.
"This is what a police state looks like!" a protester shouted at the police.
During his campaign, Gore has been dogged by protesters over his connection to Occidental. His father, the late Sen. Albert Gore Sr., had served on Occidental's board, owned stock in the company and served as chief executive of a subsidiary. His family inherited as much as $500,000 worth of Occidental stock when he died in December.
Critics have urged Gore to divest his family of that stock.
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