Riot police in Australia's second-largest city broke up a demonstration linked to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement Friday, after a group of around 100 people protesting corporate greed defied an order to vacate a plaza.
Between 15 and 20 members of the "Occupy Melbourne" group were arrested and around 20 people, including two police officers, suffered minor injuries in the scuffle, Victoria state Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said. Several demonstrators screamed and cried as police dragged and carried them away from the city square, where protesters had been camped out for nearly a week.
The so-called "Occupy" movement began last month in New York, where people frustrated with America's stubbornly limp economy have been camped out on Wall Street to protest corporate greed and social inequality. Since then, thousands of people have joined similar protests across the globe, including several cities in Australia. Most of the protests have been peaceful - with the exception of a rally in Rome that turned violent last week when protesters smashed bank windows, hurled bottles and set cars on fire.
Around 100 "Occupy" activists in Melbourne had been camped out in the square without incident since Oct. 15, many spending each night there in tents. But the Melbourne City Council finally said it had had enough, and warned protesters to leave by Friday morning or face trespassing charges.
Most activists ignored the eviction order, linking arms and forming a human chain while shouting, "This is a peaceful protest!"
Police fenced off the square and refused to let any additional protesters join the group.
Occupy Melbourne spokesman Jacob Grech said that the demonstration was peaceful, and that the protesters had a right to remain where they were.
"We're telling them that it's their right to protest and stay put," Grech said. "We're letting them know that if they are arrested, they will have legal representation and support."
But riot police with shields eventually moved in, dragging people away and forcing them to stay behind the fence surrounding the square.
Fontana said that around 20 protesters suffered minor injuries, and that one police officer was treated at a hospital for an injury to his eye. Another officer's tooth was chipped during the clash, Fontana said.
The activists who were arrested could face charges including trespassing and resisting arrest, he said.
Fontana denied accusations that police used excessive force and said protesters had been given plenty of time to leave the area voluntarily.
"We've asked the demonstrators to move on peacefully. They obviously haven't," he said. "At some stage, we had to move in. There are other people that would like to use the city square."
Police broke down the campsite, removing tents, trash, food and cardboard boxes that littered the plaza.