Zuccotti Park to be cleaned up and Wall Street protesters cleared out

Zuccotti Park has been occupied by Wall Street protesters for the last four weeks, but in a sudden turn of events they will have to vacate the park tomorrow morning and will not be allowed to return with their sleeping bags, tarps, tables, or other gear.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
Zuccotti Park's "Occupy Wall Street" protesters collect trash on Thursday, in New York. The owner of the private park where "Occupy Wall Street" protesters have been camped out for nearly a month in lower Manhattan gave notice Thursday that it will begin enforcing regulations that prohibit everything from lying down on benches to storing personal property on the ground.

Protests against corporate greed and corruption are spreading across the United States into Canada and the United Kingdom, just as the New York demonstration that started the movement faces a crackdown by its unwilling landlord.

The owner of the private park where "Occupy Wall Street" protesters have been camped out for nearly a month in lower Manhattan gave notice Thursday that it will begin enforcing regulations that prohibit everything from lying down on benches to storing personal property on the ground.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that protesters can remain in the park after the cleaning but will not be able to use the gear that has allowed them to sleep, eat and live in the park.

"After it's cleaned, they'll be able to come back, but they won't be able to bring back the gear, the equipment, sleeping bags," Kelly said. "That sort of thing will not be able to be brought back into the park."

The landlord, Brookfield Office Properties, handed out a notice to protesters saying they would be allowed back inside after a planned park cleanup on Friday morning if they abide by park regulations.

The notice said the the 12-hour, section-by-section cleaning is slated to begin 7 a.m. Friday (1100 GMT) and is part of daily upkeep, and that conditions have deteriorated in recent weeks because that upkeep was put on hold by the protesters.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the protesters Wednesday to offer assurances they would not be evicted. Bloomberg's girlfriend, Diana Taylor, is on Brookfield's board of directors, according to the property owner's website.

Protesters said they believe the effort is an attempt to end their encampment at Zuccotti Park, a three-quarter acre (one-third hectare) open square near the New York Stock Exchange, which triggered a movement against unequal distribution of wealth that has spread across the globe.

"They're going to use the cleanup to get us out of here!" said Justin Wedes, 25, a part-time public high school science teacher from Brooklyn. "It's a de facto eviction notice."

There was a scramble of activity Thursday afternoon as demonstrators began cleaning the park themselves. Part of the plaza was blocked off with red tape. Within that area, protesters scrubbed benches and mopped stone flooring. Some people even replanted flower beds.

Protester Dylan O'Keefe, an unemployed 19-year-old from Northampton, Massachusetts, was tying red tape marked with the word "danger" around trees.

"We're trying to clean the entire park, mobilizing everyone," O'Keefe said. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."

The regulations are not new — they existed prior to the occupation — but they have not been enforced until now. Because the park is private property, police cannot enter it unless Brookfield calls and files a complaint requesting police assistance.

Protest spokesman Patrick Bruner sent an email to supporters Thursday asking them to join the protesters at 6 a.m. Friday (1000 GMT), an hour before the scheduled cleaning, to "defend the occupation from eviction." An influx of demonstrators could set up a showdown with police.

The owner's notice lists regulations including a prohibition of tents, tarps and sleeping bags on the ground, no lying on benches and no storage of personal property on the ground. Those rules could end protesters' ability to continue living, sleeping and preparing food in the park, as they have been since Sept. 17.

Brookfield confirmed Thursday that the notices were passed out to demonstrators, but spokeswoman Melissa Coley would not comment on how the regulations would be enforced.

"As sections of the park are cleaned, they will reopen to the public," Brookfield said in an emailed statement. "All are welcome to enjoy the park for its intended purpose as an open neighborhood plaza, in compliance with posted rules."

Police officers escorted representatives of the company as the notices were passed out to demonstrators.

Some protesters questioned the need to clean the park in the first place.

"This is the cleanest protest I've ever witnessed," said Emilio Montilla, 29, a laid-off teacher's assistant. "We take care of ourselves. We're self-sufficient."

Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate, expressed concern over the city's actions as he inspected the parkThursday afternoon and listened to protesters' complaints.

"This has been a very peaceful movement by the people," he said. "I'm concerned about this new set of policies. At the very least, the city should slow down."

The tree-lined space beside a tower commissioned by U.S. Steel was known as Liberty Plaza Park until 2005, when it was renovated and named for John E. Zuccotti, the U.S. chairman of Brookfield Properties.

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement Wednesday that the protest has "created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park." He said Brookfield asked for police help to clear the park so it can be cleaned.

Holloway said the cleaning will be done in sections.

The protest has spawned sympathetic groups in other cities which each stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake, and Occupy Seattle, among them.

More protests are planned in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend, and European activists also are also joining in. Organizers announced a protesters' "occupation" of the London Stock Exchange to begin there on Saturday.

The movement has also drawn reaction from world leaders, including President Barack Obama, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Walesa said Thursday that he supports the New York protest and is planning to either visit or write a letter to the protesters. He said the global economic crisis has made people aware that "we need to change the capitalist system" because we need "more justice, more people's interests, and less money for money's sake."

Khamenei said Wednesday that the wave of protests reflects a serious problem that will ultimately topple capitalism in America. He claimed the United States is in a full-blown crisis because its "corrupt foundation has been exposed to the American people."

Khamenei's remarks came a day after U.S. officials said the Obama administration plans to leverage charges that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador into a new global campaign to isolate the Islamic republic.

In Portland, Oregon, where a camp with more than 300 tents and tarps has sprung up in two downtown parks, police arrested eight people before dawn Thursday for blocking a street.

In New York, police arrested four people Wednesday outside JP Morgan Chase offices where Wall Street protesters called in vain for a meeting with Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon.

Protesters accused the police of rough handling. An Associated Press photographer witnessed police officers heading into the crowd of demonstrators to make the arrests.

A lawyer for a woman pepper-sprayed during an action last month is demanding that the Manhattan district attorney prosecute an NYPD deputy inspector on an assault charge. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the matter was being investigated by police internal affairs and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

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