Hundreds turn out to protest BP in New Orleans

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Some 500 people braved rains in New Orleans' French Quarter Sunday to denounce BP for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as well as the Obama administration's response to the disaster.

In a city better known for Mardi Gras parties than political protests, the demonstration brought together left-wing urban activists and newly unemployed fishermen from conservative coastal parishes hit hard by the worst oil spill in US history.

The crowd that filled an outdoor amphitheater on the Memorial Day holiday weekend was larger -- and possibly angrier -- than expected.

"Eco-murderers!" shouted Belinda Sopczak of New Orleans. Her protest sign featured a crude sketch of a black skull with the British energy giant's green and yellow logo over both eye sockets, and bearing the words "British Polluters."

"I'm here because I want BP to plug the oil well, clean up their mess and get the hell out -- and no more drilling offshore," Sopczak told AFP, demanding a federal takeover of the spill control effort spearheaded by President Barack Obama himself.

"When is Obama going to come in and take over? It's really bad."

Her 14-year-old son, Gabe Letitia of New York, stood nearby holding up a sign that read: "BP = Bad People."

"If you mess up on a job, you're not doing your job at all," Letitia said.

"This is my first time protesting anything in my life, so it's a big experience for me."

The nightmare whipping the waters, beaches and marshes has begun to whip some here into a rage as they contemplate the future of the stricken Gulf Coast and their way of life.

New Orleans area fishermen, oyster farmers and environmental activists took turns using a bullhorn to address the crowd.

"You make a mess? Be a man and clean it up!" charged Dean Blanchard, a shrimp wholesaler and protest organizer from Venice, Louisiana. The crowd roared its approval.

George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen's Association, called on protestors to remember the workers who were killed when the well blowout triggered a mighty explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast.

"A lot of people are losing sight of the 11 people who lost their lives," he said.

Barisich's collective is suing BP in federal court for damages to Louisiana's billion-dollar seafood industry.

Other speakers called for BP to stop using Corexit -- a toxic oil dispersant that BP argues has proven effective at breaking up the spill.

Mike Easely, a college statistics professor, held up a protest sign stating: "Time for Corporate Death Penalty." Easely did not elaborate, saying the sign spoke for itself.

More than a few banners prodded Obama to do more in the crisis, with one urging the president to "get your head out of the oily sand."

Activist Sandy Rosenthal blasted what she described as the too-cozy ties between federal regulators and the British energy giant, and said today's disaster was bitterly reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when storm waters overpowered the federal levee system, left more than 1,500 people dead and shattered New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast.

"Because of engineers and lax federal oversight of the both the levees and BP, Louisiana is devastated."

© 2010 AFP

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