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Protesters Sit in at Congressional Offices

Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON - Protesters brought their message about alleged U.S. economic unfairness to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, sitting in or outside several Senate and House offices.

Anti-Wall Street Occupy DC protesters joined demonstrators from other groups in legislative office buildings, and police arrested one protester at the office of U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, for unlawful entry, a Capitol Police spokeswoman said.

Hartzler won election last year with the support of the conservative Tea Party movement.

"We've been monitoring activity all over the Hill," the police spokeswoman said.

The offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, were among the targets.

A Boehner spokeswoman said: "We respect their right to voice their opinions ... The Speaker understands the American people want a government that listens to their concerns and works together to help create a better environment for job growth."

Several groups have said they planned actions in Washington throughout this week, as part of a "Take Back the Capitol" effort. Wednesday they plan to carry their protest to the office buildings on Washington's K Street, known as home to representatives of corporations and lobbyists.

The demonstrators say the country's rich and large corporations and banks have too much wealth and power.

That echoes the complaints of the Occupy movement, which originated in New York and has seen protests around the country for the last two months but is under rising pressure from local governments to dismantle their encampments in public places.


One of the latest such operations came in New Orleans on Tuesday, where police conducted a peaceful, pre-dawn eviction of the Occupy New Orleans site.

Dozens of people had been staying in a public park for two months. One person was arrested without incident, police said.

Less than 12 hours later, however, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that allows the protesters to return to Duncan Plaza, located across the street from City Hall, and occupy the park on a 24-hour basis. It bars their eviction for at least the next seven days.

Lawyer Miles Swanson of the National Lawyers Guild, which provided legal services to the protesters, said that in addition to granting the restraining order, Judge Ray Zainey is releasing the person arrested in the eviction.

Another hearing on the issues is expected soon. The seven-day order will put the matter back in the hands of U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who was originally assigned the case but who has been out of town this week.

In Washington, protesters who had camped out in a public square have also gotten a federal court order which bars U.S. Park Police from carrying out a surprise eviction, the group said on its website.

The order bars an eviction without 24-hour notice ahead of a January 31 hearing, Occupy DC said in a statement. Police arrested 31 people on Sunday when occupiers tried to put up a wooden structure in the park, and tore down the building.

However, in Connecticut, police showed up in large numbers late on Tuesday to clear the almost two-month old Occupy Hartford encampment after the city's mayor told protesters they must vacate the site by 6:00 p.m. or face arrest.

One female protester was arrested, said Wesley Strong, an activist. About nine protesters out of some 200 in the group overall had been staying at the site, Strong said.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra had informed Occupy supporters he was shutting the site down amid reports of "illegal activity" there, including one of attempted sexual assault.

In Washington state, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday against the use of trespass warnings by police to keep Occupy protesters from disrupting legislative hearings in Olympia, the state capital.

Attorney Ben Gould, representing protesters, told Reuters U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan cited First Amendment concerns in issuing the injunction.

State patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said officers will now "make criminal arrests" when protesters refuse to leave state buildings after being ordered to do so.

"It's still against the law to disrupt a legislative hearing. It's the same as disorderly conduct or trespassing," Calkins said.

Meanwhile, Seattle Central Community College officials posted an eviction notice giving about 100 Occupy Seattle campers 72 hours before authorities will begin clearing out the encampment for health and safety issues on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Zach Howard and Laura L. Myers; Writing by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Peter Bohan and Jerry Norton)

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