Demonstrators clashed violently with riot police in San Francisco on Monday, and more than 250 people were arrested nationwide on a day of protest against United States aid to El Salvador.
“We are sending a clear message to the government that if they escalate their war in El Salvador, we will escalate our protests in San Francisco and in every other city,” protest organizer Robert Jones said through a bullhorn to hundreds of rowdy demonstrators in San Francisco.
In Washington, dozens of demonstrators were dragged away from an entrance to the State Department, but no arrests were reported there.
Elsewhere, 122 people were arrested in New York and 90 in Seattle at demonstrations outside federal buildings.
The demonstrators were upset over Sunday’s presidential election in El Salvador, which was won by Alfredo Cristiani, the candidate of the far-right Nationalist Republican Alliance. That party has been linked in the past to the activities of right-wing death squads blamed for thousands of deaths in the Central American nation.
The demonstrators maintain that U.S. aid has fueled right-wing violence in El Salvador.
In San Francisco, about 500 protesters besieged the main federal building for several hours and disrupted traffic before police dispersed the vociferous and sometimes violent crowd by using barricades and tear gas.
Police arrested 35 protesters for vandalism, failure to disperse and unlawful assembly. No injuries were reported.
A small melee broke out when some protesters knocked a police officer off his motorcycle. Demonstrators attacked officers with wooden placards, while others threw paint bombs. At one point, protesters started bonfires in the street.
“It’s a national campaign to get people into the streets,” said Lana Dalberg, spokeswoman for the Bay Area chapter of National Call to Action, a coalition of groups opposed to U.S. foreign policy in El Salvador.
Dalberg said the group has organized demonstrations in 67 cities across the nation.
Dalberg also asserted that plainclothes police officers provoked the violence after they infiltrated the crowd of protesters. However, San Francisco Police Chief Frank Jordan denied the accusation. He said a small group of the demonstrators was responsible for the violence.
In Seattle, 90 demonstrators were arrested after a peaceful rally when many sat down on the street outside the federal building and refused to move.
In Manhattan, about 150 people blocked entrances to a federal building, some linking arms across two revolving doors on one side of the building while others blocked an entrance around the side.