Occupy protesters camp out in Canadian cities
Crowds of demonstrators gathered in the streets of various Canadian cities on Saturday to kick off a series of "Occupy" protests over corporate greed and financial inequality, mirroring similar rallies that have spread from the United States to dozens of countries around the world.
The global day of marches and sit-ins are inspired by the grassroots Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, which began weeks ago and has seen protesters occupying Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park for nearly a month now.
Protests emerged in at least 15 Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and St. John's. While locations varied by city, they generally included marching to financial districts, city halls or other important economic venues.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the afternoon and held a series of marches throughout downtown, a scene described as "festival-like" by CBC News reporter Theresa Lalonde. Organizers asked for a day of consensus and requested that people not smoke. Protesters were low-key, setting up a food tent and holding meditation circles.
In Montreal, hundreds of people descended on Victoria Square. Some carried signs denouncing capitalism, and mothers with children walked among the crowd as tents were set up. By late afternoon, it had transformed into a march by more than 1,000 people down Ste.Catherine Street.
One student, holding a sign "You can't eat money," told CBC News, "We place so much importance on money in our society... the system is so screwed up [and in the end] money means nothing."
In Toronto, initial estimates put the crowd at about 3,000 as they marched east from their meeting place in the city's financial district to St. James Park at King and Church Streets, next to the city's historic Anglican church. Once at the park, the crowd dwindled to 1,500 by early afternoon. Many brought sleeping bags and tents, while some brought suitcases as well as pots and pans. By evening a food tent had been set up, people were playing drums and others appeared to be settling in for the night.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae showed up at the park, saying it was his constituency and that as a politician, he wanted to face the crowd.
'People come before profit'
"I've been in public life for 40 years. I'm used to being blamed," Rae told CBC News, adding that many protesters felt that "the economy was lacking democracy."
"The Canada that they love — a place where people take care of each other — that place is slipping through their fingers."
Protester Kevin Konnyu said he showed up because "there's too much power in too few hands."
"I want to see a world where people and the planet come before profit," added Konnyu, who also volunteered to be a facilitator for the protest in Toronto.
Police said they arrested three people during the Toronto demonstration at the Commerce Court business complex in the heart of the financial district. Police allege that one of those arrested had a hammer.
In Halifax, more than 300 protesters set up at the Grand Parade, a military parade ground in front of city hall, and immediately established a medical tent, a sleeping area in addition to providing art supplies and provisions for food and entertainment.
And in Calgary, police estimated up to 400 marched down Eighth Avenue S.W. and gathered outside Bankers Hall in the downtown core.
Organizers of the Canadian movement have urged participants to keep demonstrations civil.
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In the U.S., hundreds have been arrested in various U.S. cities. Despite that, people in more than 950 cities in 82 countries are taking part in Saturday's Occupy the Globe events.
Canadian police units — notably in Toronto and Vancouver, where the G20 protests in June 2010 and hockey riots this past June, respectively, saw vandalism and arrests — planned for days over how they would handle the protests.
Violence erupts in Rome
Meanwhile, police in Rome fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters who smashed shop windows and torched a car on Saturday as vandalism marked a demonstration in the Italian capital, part of worldwide protests against corporate greed and austerity measures.
Protesters outfitted in black, with their faces covered, threw rocks, bottles, eggs and other objects at police in riot gear. Some held clubs, others had hammers. They threw fire bombs and firecrackers at banks, destroyed bank ATMs and set trash bins on fire, news reports said. Two news crews from Sky Italia were assaulted.
At least 1,000 people demonstrated in London's financial district but were prevented by police from reaching the Stock Exchange.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spoke to demonstrators outside St. Paul's cathedral in London.
"The banking system in London is the recipient of corrupt money," he said, adding that Wikileaks would launch a campaign against financial institutions in the coming months.
Hundreds marched through the Bosnian city of Sarajevo carrying pictures of Che Guevara and old communist flags that read "Death to capitalism, freedom to the people."
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With files from The Associated Press