Campaign underway to oust Ferguson mayor

Ferguson (United States) (AFP) - Five Ferguson residents have taken a first step toward ousting the city's mayor in the wake of a federal probe into the police killing of unarmed black youth Michael Brown, activists said Saturday.

The residents delivered their affidavit for James Knowles's recall to city hall on Friday, the Organization for Black Struggle said on its Twitter feed, just as the mayor was telling US news media he has no intention of stepping down.

"We cannot describe how disgusted we are with you. We now ask that you vacate the office," wrote the five residents, whose names were not disclosed by the St Louis, Missouri-based activist group that has been prominent in almost nightly protests since Brown's August 9 death.

The affidavit went on to urge Ferguson's six-member city council to call a special election to find a new mayor for the St Louis suburb of 21,000, two thirds of whom are African American.

For the recall effort to succeed, signatures of 15 percent of registered voters in the 2014 mayoral election -- in which Knowles won a second term by acclamation -- would need to be collected within 60 days.

- 'Important step' -

"We don't see this as the last thing that needs to happen, but an important step towards restoring accountability to the people of Ferguson," said JuJu Jacobs, an organizer with the group.

Five officials in Ferguson, including its police chief, have resigned in the wake of a scathing US Justice Department report last week that exposed racial bias in the city's overwhelmingly white police department.

It described how police targeted African Americans in order to impose fines and generate revenue for the city -- a practice that activists say is common in many American municipalities.

In a flurry of media interviews Friday, Knowles struck a defiant tone, saying he had no plans to resign at a time when civic leaders are trying to enact reforms and restore harmony to a divided and frustrated community.

"Right now, the community needs leadership," the mayor -- a Ferguson native and Republican who is white and in his early 30s -- told NBC News, adding that he enjoys "continued support from a lot of residents."

- Powers limited -

Speaking to USA Today, Knowles said his powers as a part-time mayor were limited, and that he could not be held accountable for racist emails sent by city employees over whom he has no executive authority.

The day-to-day running of American cities is often in the hands of full-time chief executives, known as city or town managers. Ferguson's city manager is among the five officials who have so far resigned.

Ferguson has become a byword for racial tension since 18-year-old Brown, a suspected thief, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson on a residential street. His death ignited sometimes violent protests that spread across the country.

A grand jury in St Louis County opted in November not to indict Wilson, who testified that he acted in self-defense after Brown tried to grab his sidearm. Others contend that Brown had his hands up in a gesture of surrender when he was fatally shot.

Tensions surged anew when shots rang out overnight into Thursday, amid an otherwise peaceful demonstration outside Ferguson police station, wounding two officers and prompting a manhunt that has stretched into the weekend.

- Chasing leads -

St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, now in charge of policing Ferguson's nightly protests, said that detectives working "around the clock" were chasing several leads.

"I cannot tell you at this point that an arrest is imminent. There is certainly nobody in custody," he told reporters.

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