Riot police with batons, bullet-proof vests and some with machine guns clashed with masked protesters dressed in black in Vancouver Saturday, the first full day of the Vancouver Winter Games.
Vancouver Police say a group of more than 200 masked protesters have amassed in the downtown core, kicking and vandalizing cars and businesses. Lions Gate Bridge has been shut down in both directions.
Organizer Harsha Walia says there were several hundred protesters gathered in the downtown and witnesses say the windows of the HBC Olympic superstore were smashed.
Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, of the Olympic Resistance Network, disavowed her group from the vandalism and violence, saying that the protest was "a day of autonomous actions, independent groups, with a diversity of tactics around the Olympics.''
She said there was some property damage, but that the people who committed the damage were not the ones arrested. She said she considers the action non-violent as long as no one was hurt, no matter how much damage is caused.
"The people who were arrested were simply marching down the street trying to assert their charter rights with the police. The arrests were unnecessarily violent."
Westergard-Thorpe did not condemn the broken windows and vandalism that touched off the stand-off.
"People can choose the tactics that they like," she said, saying police were responsible for most of the violence.
"The most violent thing I've seen all day were the arrests by the police, beating people with bicycles, pushing the crowd back, physically pushing them, pushing them with bicycles and beating and wrestling people to the ground, dragging them to the ground as they were thrown into paddy wagons - and those were people that hadn't committed any property damage.
"People were trying to assert their right to assemble and express themselves."
Riot police in bright yellow vests moved in to break up the protest, and bicycle police have formed a line across one of the main streets in the downtown, and aerial cameras showed officers arresting some protesters.
The protesters, shouting obscenities and dressed in black, are marching up Georgia Street, pushing over mail boxes and newspaper boxes. At least one woman has been taken away by police.
The protesters appear to have abandoned all pretense of promoting any political agenda. A hooded protester determined to provoke the police fell down. As police moved in to hand cuff him, he pulled out a camera and started taking photos of the police. Police finally mobilized with batons and hard helmets.
A group of around 75 protesters broke off and turned down a side street. But they appeared lost and unsure what to do. Their lead drummer started up again. But the energy appeared to slip away. They began chanting "Our streets" but the chant quickly died down.
A bystander shouted out a comment. Four men in black tuques and black masks jumped on him. Other marchers pulled them off and they continued on their way. No police were around.
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