By Bruce Olson
ST. LOUIS, March 16 (Reuters) - Two demonstrators were charged on Friday with assaulting a police officer following the arrests of 15 people at the start of a Midwest protest designed to help reinvigorate the "Occupy" movement against economic inequality.
Police said two people were injured during the arrests late Thursday in a south side park. Members of the Occupy movement said that four people were beaten by police and many were pepper sprayed.
One of the demonstrators charged with assault was also accused of unlawful use of a weapon. Several protesters were released from custody on Friday and the others were expected to be released within the next few days.
The clash between protesters and police came about 10:30 p.m. after protesters were told to remove a camp they had set up earlier in the evening. With about 150 people at the scene, police moved in.
Police said the arrests were made properly but protesters disagreed. "A majority of the arrests happened as people were trying to disperse," one participant, Colleen Kelly, said.
Inspired by last year's pro-democracy Arab Spring movement, the Occupy protest movement sparked a national debate about economic inequality and has influenced the political debate in this year's U.S. presidential election campaign.
The movement started on New York's Wall Street and spread throughout the United States, with hundreds of campsites and local organizations established.
The movement lost momentum, however, after police closed major camps in New York, Oakland and other major cities, including St. Louis, where dozens of demonstrators were peacefully arrested before the final closure of their downtown campsite in November.
St. Louis police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said the "protesters became unruly and began yelling and cursing at police." She said protesters later smashed the window of a marked police car.
Donations to the Occupy groups are down, and the weekend protests were seen as a way to revive the movement's visibility, according to organizers.
Occupy St. Louis social media pages urged supporters on Friday to call the police department to protest the arrests and vowed to continue a four-day conference of organizers from several Midwest states. (Reporting By Bruce Olson; Editing by Mary Wisniewski)