HOUSTON -- More than 200 protesters flanked Halliburton Co.'s annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, adding drama to an otherwise perfunctory gathering to elect directors and retain auditors. Fifteen were arrested.
"I'm here to stand against corporate greed," said Cynthia Daly of Dallas, criticizing the oil services conglomerate's work in Iraq. She was one of two protesters whose feet were stepped on by police horses when demonstrating. Paramedics treated their injuries at the scene.
The two injured protesters were part of a group that blocked the exit of a parking garage, and mounted officers used the horses to push them out of the way after they ignored orders to move.
"Everything's been a public relations nightmare for them," Jeff Grubler, a protester from San Francisco, told the group more than an hour after the meeting ended. "We have to keep the nightmare going."
The protest, which had been planned and advertised for weeks, attracted fewer participants than the estimated 500 who appeared outside last year's shareholders meeting.
Halliburton, run by Vice President Dick Cheney for five years until he resigned in 2000 to be President Bush's running mate, has been under fire since the beginning of the war in Iraq. Its engineering and construction subsidiary, KBR, is the largest U.S. contractor in Iraq with more than $10 billion in work orders from the Army to support U.S. troops and rebuild Iraq's oil industry.
Various agencies are investigating allegations of overbilling and favoritism because of Cheney's past connections, but the company has consistently denied wrongdoing. Cheney and the Pentagon also have said the vice president plays no role in contract decisions.
J.D. Hughes of Austin, a buyer and seller of oil properties who has been a Halliburton shareholder for seven years, said he was unfazed by critics.
"I came here to show my support for Halliburton," he said.
Dave Lesar, Halliburton's chairman and chief executive, said after the meeting that Halliburton "is still evaluating" how to separate KBR from the parent company.
Lesar also said recent drops in oil and gas prices haven't affected Halliburton's business. Crude oil prices that surpassed $58 a barrel last month fell to less than $48 Wednesday.
"Clearly, at least the short-term slide back in commodity prices doesn't seem to have had an impact on our U.S. business. Our customers certainly still have plenty of cash flow," Lesar said.
Shareholders re-elected Lesar and eight other directors and retained KPMG as the company's outside auditor.
Outside, at least 25 mounted police officers lined up behind barricades to prevent protesters from disrupting the meeting. Eight got inside the hotel where the meeting was held, sat down and locked arms. They were bound either with handcuffs or flex cuffs and led or carried away.
Houston police Lt. Robert Manzo said seven of those who got inside were arrested for criminal trespass. Another eight were arrested outside for evading arrest or on misdemeanor assault charges for kicking or hitting police officers and one of the horses.
"Halliburton supports the rights of protesters," the company said in a statement. "Even if they don't have the facts right, they have a right to speak up."
Halliburton shares fell 73 cents, or 1.8 percent, to close at $40.78 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
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