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L.A. police force 10,000 from center

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LOS ANGELES — A day of peaceful protest ended Monday night with volleys of bottles and other objects being hurled at police — who drove 10,000 demonstrators away from Staples Center with a massive force of officers on horseback, motorcycle and foot.

The melee erupted about 7:30 p.m. as President Clinton took the podium at the Democratic National Convention and the anti-authoritarian Los Angeles band Rage Against the Machine was concluding its concert outside the arena with "Killing In the Name Of."

Several demonstrators climbed the 12-foot fence keeping them away from Staples Center. Others grabbed at television news cameras and attacked a radio reporter when police ordered the area cleared and began moving in.

Officers sprayed pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, which responded by throwing pylons, cans, bottles, asphalt and a handicapped-parking sign. Other signs were set on fire.

At least four people were hurt, none seriously.

Protesters accused the police of overreacting, but Los Angeles Police Department officials said the growing violence of the crowd required action.

"A large number of the crowd inside the area became very violent. It's unfortunate because earlier in the day most of the crowds were very lawful," said Cmdr. David Kalish, department spokesman. "It became necessary for officers to actively move in."

Several hundred mounted officers, and some on foot or motorcycle, forced the crowd back several blocks through a freeway underpass.

Delegates were kept inside Staples Center until the protesters were cleared away and there was no threat of violence.

Convention delegate Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was caught in the melee and said he was shoved by officers despite identifying himself as a delegate.

"The police were absolutely out of line," he told The Associated Press. "They should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what they use our taxpayer money to train for?"

The melee started after Rage Against the Machine, known for its CD "The Battle of Los Angeles," left the stage and East L.A. band Ozomatli was starting its set.

The crowd was generally peaceful until the final song of the 90-minute concert.

The crowd was screaming the lyrics from Rage Against the Machine's last song and making obscene gestures toward Staples Center while Hillary Rodham Clinton's image was projected on a big-screen TV outside the convention hall.

A protest group wearing all black, known as the "Black Block," started over a security fence, yelling "This is what a police state looks like!"

A police commander took the stage and told the crowd the demonstration was over and said, "Everyone has to disperse or you will be subject to arrest."

Protesters were told they had 15 minutes to leave, but fires broke out among the crowd and only about 1,000 people left before police sent in the mounted officers.

"They didn't give people enough time to go," said Gillian Claycomb, a 19-year-old UCLA student. "We were totally obeying the law. We were protesting in a peaceful way—dancing and singing."

Others said police didn't give clear direction and pushed protesters in a variety of directions.

Hugo Vargas, 28, of Los Angeles said he was hit with a rubber bullet.

"Everyone at the end got hit. It's absurd," Vargas said. "Everyone was in the motion of leaving."

Others agreed.

"We were all dispersing as we were told and they rolled up on us with their horses and began hitting us with their batons," said Kelly Brand, 34, of Los Angeles who was at the protest with the American Indian movement. "I was trying to get out and I asked the cop which way to go, he said, 'That way,' and hit me with his baton."

Brand had a bloody, five-inch gash below his left shoulder blade.

Police were pushing protesters away from the area. Some protesters lay down and linked arms.

Jana Carter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is monitoring police action, said everything was "fine until they decided to shut down the concert."

People in the crowd started throwing various objects over the fence toward a line of riot police.

A police commander then ordered the power turned off. As concertgoers filtered out of the area, police on horseback, with batons drawn, rushed in to move people away from the fences. Officers in riot gear then fired pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd.