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Police Embroiled in Violent Battles with G20 Protesters (with video)

Alexandra Frean in Pittsburgh and David Byers

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Anti-G20 protesters rampaged through the city centre of Pittsburgh tonight, smashing up shops and throwing rocks at police, as officers used tear gas and baton-charges in an attempt to bring them under control.

In riots which continued through evening rush hour, about 300 protesters were reported to have remained from an initial crowd of 2,000 in Bloomfield, Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.

Frustrated in their attempts to reach the venue where world leaders are meeting the crowd, many of whom wore face-masks and armed themselves with rocks, broke windows at fast-food restaurants, a BMW dealership and a bank in the area, about a mile from the fenced-off convention centre.

Police in body armour and armed with plastic shields threw pepper gas canisters to disperse the protesters, charging in to make some arrests.

Some reports also suggested that rubber bullets had been used, but police tonight confirmed that they had fired pellet-filled “beanbags” to combat the rioters.

“In response to having sticks, bricks and rocks thrown at them in the Shady Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, police responded with bean bag rounds and dispersed the crowd,” Bill Crowley, an FBI agent, told the AFP news agency.

So-called bean bags - or flexible baton rounds - are fired from an officer’s riot shotgun. Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard said they were “softer” than rubber bullets. “The police had sticks, rocks and other instruments thrown toward them so in defence of that, that was their way of dispersing the crowd. They had trash cans thrown at them, all kinds of different things,” she said.

Anti-capitalist protests have marked major gatherings of world leaders on the economy for years, sometimes turning violent and forcing summit organisers to use fortress-like security.

Earlier, police dispersed the 2,000 people who had gathered during lunchtime for a march. “You must leave the immediate vicinity regardless of your purpose,” officers said, and warned that gas and other “non-lethal force” would be used.

The main clashes took place in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Protesters threw bottles and police responded by sending up to 10 canisters of tear gas into the crowd. The sharp smell of the gas irritated the eyes and throats of protesters, some of them vomiting as they ran.

“We have seen police use rubber bullets, batons and gas,” said Noah Williams, a spokesman for the anti-capitalist Pittsburgh G20 Resistance Project.

Leaders of developed and developing economies are meeting in Pittsburgh for a gathering to discuss how to improve financial reforms to avoid another global economic crisis.