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Occupy anniversary protests fall flat

NEW YORK: Protesters from Occupy Wall Street returned to the streets of New York on Monday to mark their one-year anniversary, but in such small numbers that the movement appeared to be losing steam.

Dozens were arrested, including a bishop, but the action paled in comparison to the crowd of 30,000 that packed Manhattan's streets on November 17, 2011, to rally against economic inequality and wealth disparities.

In New York's financial district, roughly 600 demonstrators carrying signs that read "Get money out of politics" and "We are the 99 percent" took to the streets around Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement one year ago.

Witnesses counted some 100 arrests, and AFP reporters on the ground saw several protesters being detained, but the New York Police Department declined to put a figure on the number in custody.

"We are sending the message that Wall Street bankers cannot go to work every morning without thinking what their institutions are doing to the country," protest spokesman Mark Brey told AFP.

The National Lawyers Guild, who had observers around the New York Stock Exchange, said at least 100 people had been arrested by mid-afternoon.

Several people were taken into custody at one entrance to Wall Street, and demonstrators were detained near Zuccotti Park as police on horseback blocked side streets.

At one point, marchers appeared on Broadway in an attempt to disrupt the morning commute. Around the stock exchange protesters had split into four groups to complicate the task of the police.

By the afternoon, protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park.

Those taken into custody included retired Episcopalian bishop George Packard, cleary identifiable as a clergyman in his long purple robe.

"I am here today because of the greed of Wall Street," he told AFP. "All roads lead to Wall Street, they control our lives."

The movement has seen a steep drop in support since it was founded a year ago, when hundreds camped in the park to rally against bank bailouts and what they called the ruling "one percent."

Last year, Occupy's camp in Zuccotti Park spawned similar protests in cities around the world as the movement tapped into widespread resentment over the economic slump, persistent unemployment and anger at financial practices.

But this time around, support in other US cities waned with no signs of major protests elsewhere -- in a sign the movement has failed to make good on promises to return as a significant force.

"Last year, people gathered spontaneously," recalled Sara Blom, a 30-year-old Dutch anthropologist and filmmaker.

"It was a good kind of chaos at the beginning, but now it feels like either it has to be structured or it is just going to disappear," she said.

Ahead of Monday's action, organizers had hoped the one-year anniversary would help revitalize protests.

The highlight of several days of street action was to be a "people's wall" at the stock exchange, said Dana Balicki, another spokeswoman for the group.

"We want to bring people down to the belly of the beast," she said. "That will be a pretty substantial act of civil disobedience."

In addition to staging a sit-in outside the heavily guarded building, there were plans for policy workshops and civil disobedience training sessions.

Balicki said Occupy leaders had learned from past mistakes and were ready to circumvent a police crackdown, adding "some really good tacticians" would work to ensure the upcoming return to the streets won't be immediately quashed.

On the media-savvy OccupyWallSt.org site, organizers maintained that their protests remain more relevant than ever.

Monday "marks the beginning of year two of Occupy Wall Street and four years since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, helping catapult our global economy into a new phase of disrepair," a statement said.

"No complaints from the rich one percent -- they're still rich. They're insatiable unless we push back."

 

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