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Occupy Wall Street protesters running out of space

/ Source: news services

Anti-Wall Street demonstrators said Saturday they are growing out of their lower Manhattan encampment and are exploring options to expand to other public spaces in New York City.

Protesters complaining about what they view as corporate greed have been camped out near Wall Street in Zuccotti Park for three weeks, staging rallies and marches that have mostly proceeded peacefully but have also resulted in confrontations with police.

On Saturday, several hundred protesters marched north to Washington Square Park — the site of protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s — to discuss expanding their encampment to other sites. There were no arrests.

Lucas Vasquez, a student who was leading the march, said protesters were looking at expanding into Washington Square and Battery parks, but stressed: "We're not going to give up Liberty Plaza" — the protesters' name for Zuccotti Park, where about 250 have camped out around the clock.

"It's sometimes hard to move around there. We have a lot of people," he said.

By late on Saturday, no decision had been reached.

The movement has surged in less than three weeks from a ragged group in downtown Manhattan to protesters of all ages demonstrating from Seattle to Tampa.

The protesters object to the Wall Street bailout in 2008, which they say left banks to enjoy huge profits while average Americans suffered under high unemployment and job insecurity.

On Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the protests "aren't productive" and bad for tourism, even as he said he was sympathetic to some of their complaints.

Wall Street is the pillar of the New York state economy, making up 13 percent of tax contributions.

The protests have expanded to more than two dozen cities, although outside New York the crowds have been much smaller.

"We're tired of other people controlling — or thinking they control — our lives and our livelihoods," said Kristin Thompson, a 22-year-old pre-school teacher and one of 100 protesters on Saturday in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

In Washington, D.C., the National Air and Space Museum was closed Saturday when demonstrators tried to enter the building with signs and at least one person was pepper-sprayed.

Smithsonian spokesman John Gibbons says a group of demonstrators, estimated between 100 and 200 people, arrived at about 3 p.m. Saturday and tried to enter the free museum.

Gibbons says when a security guard tried to stop them, saying they could not enter with the signs, he was apparently held by demonstrators. A second guard used pepper spray on at least one person and the crowd dispersed. One woman was arrested.

Protest organizers said the attempt to enter the museum on the National Mall was part of the Occupy D.C. antiwar demonstrations that began Thursday on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan war.

"Along with the Occupy Wall Street movement, it represents an upswell of people taking to the street around the country to demand social and economic justice as well as an end to the immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," organizers said in an e-mail sent to Reuters.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, about 250 protesters, lined the streets outside a Bank of America branch, waving corporate-protest signs at passing vehicles.

Participants said they had been summoned via social network Internet sites, labor organizers, liberal website and members of the local Green Party.

"We are all in this together," said Ramona Beene, 45, who owns a cake company.

She said her two college-age children are "spending thousands of dollars and won't have jobs after they graduate."