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Barack Obama calls for healing amid St Louis teen death protests

President Barack Obama called for "a time of healing" yesterday as a sixth night of racially-charged protests loomed following the death of a black teenager at the hands of police.

Mr Obama broke off from his holiday to address the situation in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, which has been engulfed by demonstrations and violence since the shooting of Michael Brown on Saturday.

The president said: "I know emotions are raw right now. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18-years-old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.

"There is never an excuse for violence against police. There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against protesters. Now is a time for healing. Now is a time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.

"And it's a time for open and transparent process to see justice is done."

If Ferguson looks like a war zone that may be because its police force is armed to the teeth with military equipment. In photographs from this week's protests, officers can be seen toting assault rifles, wearing gas masks and body armour loaded with extra ammunition magazines, and riding around in mine-resistant armoured personnel carriers.

The militarisation of US police departments has escalated exponentially in the years since 9/11, with many local forces increasingly resembling US troops fighting overseas.

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According to a recent report by the New York Times, since 2006 US police departments have collectively acquired 93,763 machine guns; 432 mine-resistant trucks; more than 500 aircraft; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night vision gear.

Attempts to ease tensions have faltered as local police commanders have chosen to deploy overwhelming force to repel protesters and have declined to release the identity of the officer who opened fire on Mr Brown, days before he was to start college.

But Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told a meeting of residents that "you will all see a different tone" in the police response, after announcing unspecified "operational shifts" in law enforcement tactics.

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