Violence mars anti-Trump protests in Washington

WASHINGTON - Masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows, lit fires and scuffled with riot police Friday in downtown Washington, blocks from the parade in honour of newly sworn-in President Donald Trump.

Washington police arrested at least 217 people for acts of vandalism committed on the fringe of peaceful citywide demonstrations against Trump's inauguration.

Just before the parade started, clashes broke out between 400 to 500 stone-throwing protesters and riot police, who responded with tear gas - the second violent flare-up in the space of a few hours.

As Trump's motorcade wound its way up Pennsylvania Avenue in the parade to the White House, protesters just a few blocks away set a parked limousine on fire after smashing its windows.

An AFP reporter saw National Guardsmen donning helmets and bullet-proof vests, as protesters blocked traffic and set trash cans ablaze - chanting "Not my president" and "We resist President Trump."

Earlier, masked youths emerged from crowds of peaceful protesters to kick over trash cans and smash windows of stores, a bank and a fast food outlet.

City police chief Peter Newsham said at least 217 people were arrested and would be held overnight before appearing in front of a judge.

"The charge is rioting," he told reporters.

"Our intention going into this event was to make zero arrests, and unfortunately they forced our hand." Newsham said six officers were injured mainly by thrown objects, but that all the injuries were minor.

Meanwhile, prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer was sucker-punched in the street while giving an interview to journalists, according to footage of the incident circulating online.

"No serious damage," Spencer said on Twitter. "I can take a punch." As the 70-year-old Trump, his supporters and top dignitaries gathered on the National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony, throngs of his opponents also converged on the US capital.

Most of the noisy protests - including those by an array of anti-racist, anti-war, feminist, LGBT, pro-immigration and marijuana legalization groups - were peaceful.

But the protesters were intent on being heard - massing at the city's Navy Memorial Plaza, along the parade route, and letting out a deafening roar as the presidential limousine known as "The Beast" drove by.

"Not my president! Not my president!" they yelled, as the pro- Trump crowd in bleachers across the street chanted "USA! USA!" Protesters along the route waved banners reading: "Try to deserve this office," "Obama cares, Trump scares," or "Make America Sane Again."

Another group unfurled a giant banner reading "Shame" outside the Trump Hotel - right near the spot where the president briefly stepped out of his limo to walk the parade route.

Newsham attributed the sporadic outbreaks of violence to "a small group that wanted to disrupt the inauguration."

"We have significant damage in a number of blocks in our city," he said, while adding: "It's a very, very small percentage of those folks who came here to peacefully assemble in our city."

Black-clad groups with anarchist and anti-fascist banners could be seen moving quickly on the outskirts of the main protests.

Marchers, some red-eyed from pepper spray, chanted: "No deportation, no KKK, no fascist USA!" Several demonstrators were carrying batons and other weapons, police said, while at least one protester was hurt and was seen receiving treatment for a head wound.

The front windows of businesses including a Starbucks and a Bank of America were smashed to pieces.

The majority of protests in the city were peaceful - whether people came to register anger, dissent or dismay at Trump's election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Groups of Trump supporters passed by the protests on the way to hail their hero, and some insults were thrown, but the two sides kept largely apart.

One sign showing a smiling image of Russian President Vladimir Putin read: "Putin's pick is nyet my president." A 27-year-old financial worker from Tampa Bay in Florida, who did not want to give his name for fear of retaliation by his employer, said he was fearful for the future.

"There is nothing to hope for except for grassroots efforts to oppose him," he told AFP.

Protesters said they feared Trump would be an extremist president, taking a hardline approach on everything from immigration to gutting public services.

"It's a sad day to be an American," said 26-year-old Washington resident Colin Hernandez.

Public interest lawyer Renee Steinhagen, 61, came down from New York to join the protests.

"This is a simple act of resistance. It's better than staying at home," she said.

John Zangas, a longtime DC resident, said it felt like the city was "under siege" given the number of police on the streets.

"This should be a momentous occasion, not one where flash-bang (noise grenades) and tear gas are deployed against citizens," Zangas said.