05/30/2006

Wash. police fire pepper spray in anti-war protest

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash.- Police fired pepper spray as about 150 anti-war protesters tried to enter the Port of Olympia as part of ongoing demonstrations against the shipment of Army equipment to Iraq.

Protesters chanted "Out of Olympia, Out of Iraq" as they rocked a chain-link gate to the port late Monday, and at least three tried to use wooden boards to pry the gate open, The Olympian newspaper reported. A 50-ton piece of equipment was moved to reinforce the gate on the other side.

Police and sheriff's deputies clad in riot gear fired at least four rounds of pepper spray in an hour after asking the demonstrators several times to stop, authorities said. No one was arrested, but paramedics were dispatched to treat some activists.

Dozens of demonstrators crouched in the port plaza, dousing each other's eyes with water and offering slices of onion to soothe their throats.

"It burned. I couldn't open my eyes for 20 minutes," said Rachel Graham, among those hit. "My face is burning. I dunked my face in water and in Puget Sound."

Activists began watching for a military ship more than a week ago after learning that Stryker vehicles and other Army gear from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a 4,000-soldier unit stationed at Fort Lewis, was being shipped to Iraq through the port.

Sixteen people were arrested in three days last week, mostly for pedestrian interference. The vessel arrived in Budd Inlet at the south end of Puget Sound about 7:30 p.m. Monday, accompanied by Coast Guard vessels with large guns to secure the waterway.

"The majority were very peaceful, nonviolent, just exercising their constitutional rights," sheriff's Capt. Bradley Watkins said.

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