Park cleanup postponed, heartening NYC protesters - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Park cleanup postponed, heartening NYC protesters

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Occupy Wall Street protestors leap over a vehicle barricade as hundreds march towards Wall Street after being heartened by a postponement of a scheduled cleanup Oct. 14, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Occupy Wall Street protestors leap over a vehicle barricade as hundreds march towards Wall Street after being heartened by a postponement of a scheduled cleanup Oct. 14, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Mounted police officers prepare to defend Wall Street as hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors march on the financial district after being heartened by a postponement of a scheduled cleanup Oct. 14, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Mounted police officers prepare to defend Wall Street as hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors march on the financial district after being heartened by a postponement of a scheduled cleanup Oct. 14, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — The official cleanup of a New York plaza where protesters have camped out for a month was postponed early Friday, sending up cheers from demonstrators who feared the effort was merely a pretext to evict them and said the victory emboldened their movement.

Protesters had already been scrambling to clean up the park on their own in hopes of staving off eviction when Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway announced that the owner of the private park, Brookfield Office Properties, had put off the cleaning.

"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying ... 'We're going to make your life more difficult,'" Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.

There was still some skepticism even after the protesters, who call their demonstration Occupy Wall Street, were told they could stay on.

"I'll believe it when we're able to stay here," said Peter Hogness, 56, a union employee from Brooklyn. "One thing we have learned from this is that we need to rely on ourselves and not on promises from elected officials."

Nonetheless, they declared it a boon to their movement, which blames Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown. Since starting a month ago in New York, the movement has spread to cities across the U.S. and the world.

"This development has emboldened the movement and sent a clear message that the power of the people has prevailed against Wall Street," New York organizers said in a statement.

Several protests are planned this weekend in the U.S., Canada and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa, and the official capitulation in New York could buoy those events.

"I think it's really a prophetic moment," said Annie Gonzalez, a student at Union Theological Seminary who wore a sign identifying her as an Occupy Wall Street chaplain. She likened the protesters to "the prophets of the Old Testament, crying out that there's no justice."

Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is on Brookfield's board of directors, said his staff was under strict orders not to pressure the company one way or the other. He noted that the company can still go ahead with the cleanup at some point.

"They called to say they want to see if they can work out an agreement with the protesters," he said on his radio show. "If they want to take a couple of days ... then they can do that."

The company's rules, which haven't been enforced, have all along prohibited tarps, sleeping bags and storing personal property on the ground. Though the park is privately owned, it is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

Brookfield, a publicly traded real estate firm, had planned to power-wash the New York plaza section by section over 12 hours and allow the protesters back — but without much of the equipment they needed to sleep and camp there. The company called the conditions at the park unsanitary and unsafe.

The New York Police Department had said it would make arrests if Brookfield requested it and laws were broken. But the deputy mayor's statement indicated that "for the time being" Brookfield was withdrawing its request for police assistance in cleaning the park.

A confrontation between police and protesters, who had vowed to stay put through civil disobedience, had been feared. Many protesters had said the only way they would leave was by force, and organizers sent out a mass email Thursday asking supporters to "defend the occupation from eviction."

Boisterous cheers floated up from the crowd in New York as the announcement of the cleaning postponement circulated, and a small group soon marched away with brooms, saying they were going to clean up Wall Street, a few blocks away.

There were reports of a handful of arrests. In one case, a police scooter hit a protester, who fell to the ground and screamed before kicking the scooter over to free his foot; he was then arrested.

A few blocks south of the park Friday morning, about two dozen demonstrators screamed "Pigs!" and hurled obscenities at a dozen officers in riot gear, who showed no visible reaction. The officers then left the area, trailed by protesters with cameras.

Protesters have had some previous run-ins with police, including mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and an incident in which some protesters were pepper-sprayed.

In Denver on Friday, dozens of police in riot gear advanced on the last remaining cluster of protesters at the state Capitol. The demonstrators retreated without resisting, but some were arrested.

Near the Colorado state Capitol in Denver early Friday, hundreds of protesters were told to clear out of a park or risk arrest, and dozens of police in riot gear moved in and declared the area closed. In Trenton, N.J., protesters were ordered to remove tents from their encampment near a war memorial.

In New York, supporters of the protesters, including union members, streamed into the plaza in the early morning darkness in a show of solidarity in a show several hundred strong.

After the announcement filtered through the crowd, some scrubbed the park's marble and pavement with brooms and soapy water and picked up trash as others unfurled tarps on the rain-dampened concrete and ate potluck breakfast off paper plates. One man practiced his yoga sun salutation despite the dark clouds.

Liane Nikitovich, 44, fitness instructor, said she was buoyed by the news but also concerned that it was a postponement — not a cancellation.

"It's really a victory for freedom of speech and for democracy," Nikitovich said. "This is one moment. It shows that our support is growing worldwide."

The demand that protesters clear out had set up a potential turning point in a movement that began Sept. 17 with a small group of activists and has swelled to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life. Occupy Wall Street has inspired similar demonstrations across the country and become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a reference to the protests in a speech Friday at The Economic Club of New York.

"The protests ... are a reminder that we have a great deal of work to do," she said.

Attorneys from the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild — who are representing an Occupy Wall Street sanitation working group — wrote a letter to Brookfield saying the company's request to get police to help implement its cleanup plan threatened "fundamental constitutional rights."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister, Tom McElroy, Cara Anna, Deepti Hajela, Cristian Salazar, Verena Dobnik, and Meghan Barr, and photographer Mary Altaffer in New York; and Thomas Peipert in Denver.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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