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Oakland shuts port ahead of anti-Wall Street protests

The Port of Oakland in the US state of California was shut down and staff were told to go home on Wednesday ahead of a planned march by anti-Wall Street protesters. Protests in Oakland were subject to a fierce crackdown by police last week.


AFP - One of the United States' busiest sea ports was shut down Wednesday as anti-Wall Street protesters marched on it after a day of protests and a strike in the Californian city of Oakland.

The Port of Oakland sent staff home early ahead of the march scheduled at the end of a day of mostly peaceful demonstrations in downtown Oakland, which was wracked by violence only last week.

Hundreds of teachers appeared to have heeded a strike call, while many downtown businesses were closed up.

Port authorities sent their main office employees home mid-afternoon, ahead of the evening march, saying: "This is to ensure their safety and the flow of traffic in case there are any public actions impacting the immediate area."

"At this time maritime operations are effectively shut down at the Port of Oakland. Maritime area operations will resume when it is safe and secure to do so," the Port of Oakland said in an early evening update.

"Safety, security, respect and dignity for everyone remain of paramount importance. We continue to ask that everyone remain calm, respectful, and safe," it added.

And it said: "Specifically, we ask that the marchers allow port workers safe passage home. Please allow your fellow 99% to get home safe to their families."

The dockside shutdown came after thousands of people rallied in the city center during the day, to support a strike called after police fired tear gas while clearing a protestors' camp last week, injuring one person.

While the protests were mainly peaceful, some acts of vandalism were reported, targeting closed-up bank branches downtown.

At one point some 200 people chanted outside a Wells Fargo branch, which has graffiti scrawled on its walls including "The 1 percent won’t back down" and "Who’s robbing who?" according to local CBS television.

Mayor Jean Quan, criticized for her handling of the protests, issued a statement calling for calm -- and by early afternoon the mood remained peaceful.

"Police Chief (Howard) Jordan and I are dedicated to respecting the right of every demonstrator to peacefully assemble, but it is our duty to prioritize public safety," she said.

During the day the mood among protesters in was jubilant. "We're doing something that's never happened in history," said "occupier" Jedidiah Lee. "We're changing the world."

Lee, 29, said he had come across the bay from Occupy San Francisco, where protesters have pledged to support their Oakland counterparts in the strike.

As hundreds of protesters gathered en mass in a downtown intersection, a singer belted out, "I Will Survive."

The crowd then marched down a major city street, hip-hop music blaring from speakers set up in the back of a pickup truck parked at the intersection.

Brother Muziki, an elementary school teacher, was helping carry a banner reading: "Bail out schools and services, not banks!" "Our classrooms are overcrowded, he said. "The banks are being bailed out -- but not the schools."

Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint said some 268 teachers had requested substitutes for the day. But many more had also called in sick or not shown up, he said.

Flint said the district supported the strike's goals, which include fighting for more money for public education, and had worked with the teachers union to develop strike-related classroom curriculum for the day.

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