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Thousands rally across US cities in protest at Ferguson ruling

THOUSANDS of people rallied in cities across the US including Los Angeles and New York to passionately but peacefully protest over a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.

They led marches, waved signs and shouted chants of "Hands up, don't shoot", the refrain that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings across the US.

The most disruptive demonstrations were in the St Louis area and Oakland, California, where protesters flooded the lanes of freeways, milling around stopped cars with their hands raised in the air.

Activists had been planning to protest even before the night-time announcement that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged over the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The racially charged case in Ferguson has inflamed tensions and reignited debates over police-community relations even in cities far from the predominantly black St Louis suburb.

Police departments in several major cities were braced for large demonstrations with the potential for the kind of violence that marred nightly protests in Ferguson after Mr Brown's killing. Demonstrators there vandalised police cars and buildings, hugged barricades and taunted officers with expletives last night, while police fired smoke canisters and tear gas. Gunshots were heard on the streets and fires raged.

But police elsewhere reported that gatherings were mostly peaceful following the court announcement.

As the night wore on, dozens of protesters in Oakland got past police and blocked traffic on an interstate highway. Police were able to corral the protesters and cleared the highway in one area, but another group soon entered the traffic lanes a short distance away. Police did not immediately report any arrests.

A diverse crowd of several hundred protesters marched and chanted in St Louis not far from the site of another police shooting, shutting down an interstate highway for a time. A few cars got stuck in the middle of the protesters, who appeared to be leaving the vehicles alone. They chanted "Hands up, don't shoot" and "Black lives matter."

In Seattle, marching demonstrators stopped periodically to sit or lie down in city intersections, blocking traffic before moving on, as dozens of police officers watched.

Groups ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people also gathered in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Washington, where people held up signs and chanted "Justice for Michael Brown" outside the White House.

In New York City, the family of Eric Garner, a black man killed by a police chokehold earlier this year, joined civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton at a speech in Harlem, lamenting the grand jury's decision. Later, several hundred people who had gathered in Manhattan's Union Square marched peacefully to Times Square.

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In Los Angeles, which was rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, police officers were told to remain on duty until released by their supervisors. About 100 people gathered in Leimert Park, and a group of religious leaders held a small news conference demanding changes in police policies.

A group of about 200 demonstrators marched towards the city centre.

The marchers briefly shut down an interstate highway in central Los Angeles late last night. California Highway Patrol officers declared an unlawful assembly.

After midnight, about 100 police officers wearing riot gear fired hard foam projectiles into the ground to disperse about 50 protesters in central Los Angeles.

Another splinter group of about 30 people marched all the way to Beverly Hills, where they lay down in an intersection.

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