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Missouri deploys National Guard to violence-wracked Ferguson

FERGUSON, Missouri -- Missouri's governor on Monday ordered National Guard troops to help restore order in Ferguson, hours after police hurled tear gas to disperse violent protesters in the town wracked by race riots.

Ferguson has been engulfed in unrest since a white police officer on Aug. 9 shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

The National Guard soldiers will respond to the unified police command in Ferguson, Governor Jay Nixon said in an executive order.

About three hours before the midnight Sunday (0500 GMT Monday) curfew, police in body armor and gas masks moved to disperse a peaceful protest that had deteriorated into mob violence.

Police, supported by armored vehicles, responded with tear gas and rubber bullets after “Molotov cocktails were thrown,” said Ronald Johnson, the African-American state highway patrol captain charged with restoring local order.

“There were shootings, looting, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous but premeditated criminal acts designed to damage property, hurt people, and provoke a response,” said Johnson, speaking at a press conference after the violence subsided.

'Preplanned aggression'

Looters attacked at least four businesses, including a McDonald's restaurant and a Domino's Pizza.

Johnson described the violence as “disobedience, preplanned aggression.”

At least two people were wounded by gunfire among the protesters, Johnson said. He did not say how many people had been arrested.

Just before 9 p.m., hundreds of protesters marched toward the police command post, and people in the crowd threw “multiple” Molotov cocktails, bottles and rockets at police.

“Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response,” Johnson said.

Some of the marchers carried signs protesting police brutality. Many marched peacefully with their hands up in the air, but others taunted police and threw back tear gas canisters.

“We were walking up peacefully towards the command center to kneel in protest in front of the police, to say 'our hands are up,'” said Lisha Williams, who was in the march.

“They started firing tear gas at us out of the blue. I know what tear gas is, my face was burning,” said Williams, who said she was an army veteran.

Governor Nixon said in a statement that he was directing the National Guard to “assist” police “in restoring peace and order to this community.”

Separately, the local school district said that classes in Ferguson would be canceled Monday “due to continuing unrest in some areas ... and in the interest of the safety of students and families.”

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People protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri, Sunday, Aug. 17. (AP)

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