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Hundreds protest US sheriff's tent city jail

Hundreds of people have protested in the south-western US city of Phoenix over the controversial jail tents set up by an Arizona sheriff sued for alleged discrimination against Latinos.

Demonstrators sang at the candlelight vigil late Saturday and demanded the closure of the "Tent City" set up by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in front of the Maricopa County jail. The tents can accommodate more than 2,000 prisoners.

"It leaks when it rains... there's no way to get out of the heat," which can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) in the sweltering summer months, one female protester said.

Demonstrators carried banners calling for the arrest of Arpaio, who has been the elected sheriff in Maricopa County for nearly 20 years. One read: "Arpaio is inhumane and racist. Kick him out."

Arpaio countered: "They worry about the heat but I say this over and over again - our men and women are in Iraq, Afghanistan, where it's about 115 degrees, serving our country." The rally was broadcast live on the Internet by the Unitarian Universalist Association, which organized the event and was holding its annual convention in Phoenix.

Activists say "Tent City" violates the rights of prisoners. They also wanted to draw attention to Arizona's controversial 2010 immigration law, known as SB1070, which critics say encourages ethnic profiling.

The law has aroused intense controversy because of provisions that require police to stop and demand proof of citizenship of anyone suspected of being illegal, even without probable cause. The Supreme Court could rule on the constitutionality of the Arizona legislation next week.

The US Justice Department has sued Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and Arpaio in federal court, alleging that Arpaio uses "discriminatory" action against Latinos who are "frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color or national origin."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012


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