Portland (AFP) - Activists hurled rocks and bottles during a rally in the US city of Portland, Oregon organized by two far-right groups that drew a counter protests, said police, which ordered demonstrators to leave not long after the marches got under way.
Police in the western state of Oregon's largest city had maintained a heavy presence during the dueling demonstrations, which had raised fears of a replay of last year's "Unite the Right" protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that ended in bloodshed.
The projectiles were thrown at officers, said police, who ordered those in the area to "immediately disperse" -- warning "failure to comply with this order may subject you to arrest or citation, and may subject you to the use of riot control agents or impact weapons."
Footage of the rallies that drew hundreds showed plumes of smoke rising in the city of about 640,000 people. Portland police later said "protest officers seized firework mortars," while some activists on the left accused police of shooting "stun grenades."
Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, right-wing groups linked to violence at a previous Portland rally, were marching in the city's Tom McCall Waterfront Park in support of Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson, who is running as a Republican for the US Senate.
A group called Popular Mobilization had also organized a counter-demonstration at the park, accompanied by a marching band and protesters in clown costumes.
Meanwhile, on another counter-demonstration's Facebook page, organizers of that event said they "make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence."
- 'Serious threat' -
Following the police order on Saturday to disperse, Portland's branch of the Democratic Socialists of America pinned blame on officers, saying on Twitter that "a little bit before 2 PM all seemed normal in the crowd."
"Then without warning, the cops shot stun grenades into the anti-fascist crowd and started forcing people to disperse," the organization said, pointing to Portland's police as "the ones who escalated and created a dangerous situation."
On Friday, the city's mayor Ted Wheeler had voiced concern "that individuals are posting publicly their intent to act out violently," saying "we don't want this here."
Police had warned protesters to leave their guns at home even though holders of valid Oregon concealed-handgun licenses are permitted to carry their weapons at the park.
They had said officers would screen people for weapons at entrances to the park, and explosive-sniffing dogs were also to be brought in.
"The potent combination of bigotry and violence on the streets of Portland poses a serious threat to community safety, and particularly to residents who are people of color, women and LGBTQ," said a statement from the Western States Center, signed by around 40 activist groups.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit group that monitors extremism, Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have appeared together at several rallies in the Pacific Northwest since 2017.
A rally on June 30 was declared a riot and shut down by police after marchers and counter-protesters clashed, leaving several people injured.