US & Canada

Mayor defends Occupy eviction as judge hears challenge

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended Tuesday's raid on the Occupy Wall Street camp, as activists mount a legal challenge to the eviction.

A court hearing is under way into the legality of the clear-out after a temporary legal order was granted allowing protesters to stay.

Police arrested some 200 people in the surprise pre-dawn raid on Zuccotti Park and later held several journalists.

A number of other US protest camps have also been cleared in recent days.

Mayor Bloomberg said the protesters had the right to make their views known and could return to the park to protest, but would not be allowed to camp out there.

"The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out - but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others," he said.

Mr Bloomberg said the city would contest a motion filed by the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights organisation, that has been representing arrested protesters.

It was granted a temporary court order allowing the protesters to return with their tents. A state court judge has convened a hearing on the legality of the eviction.

'Bleeding profusely'

Demonstrators gathered around the park demanding to be let back in, but Mr Bloomberg said the park would stay shut until the court order was clarified. A ring of police barricades remained in place.

Protesters also assembled at nearby Foley Square, and posted updates from there to a new Twitter account.

Some also tried to occupy Duarte Square, but were thwarted by police, who made several arrests.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear surrounded the privately owned, publicly accessible Zuccotti Park overnight, before ordering the protesters to leave.

Tuesday's operation, launched at about 01:00 (0600 GMT), swept most of the demonstrators out within an hour.

As a helicopter circled above, clean-up crews worked through the night clearing away piles of rubbish.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said about 200 people had been arrested, including dozens who tried to resist by linking arms or chaining themselves together with bicycle locks.

"I was bleeding profusely. They shoved a lot of people's faces into the ground," protester Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31, told the Associated Press news agency.

At least four journalists were later arrested while covering subsequent protests in lower Manhattan.

They included a reporter and photographer for the Associated Press news agency and a journalist from the Daily News.

Small-business owners had complained about the noise and unsanitary conditions in the camp, accusing demonstrators of messing up their toilet facilities and driving away customers.

Residents meanwhile had said parts of the park smelled of urine and excrement, while officials and protesters had reported incidents of sexual assault, theft and drug dealing at the site.

While many welcomed the eviction, Mr Bloomberg's decision was also criticised.

New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Tuesday that the raid had been "a needlessly provocative and legally questionable decision".

In other developments on Tuesday:

  • In London, authorities re-opened legal action against a similar demonstration camp outside St Paul's Cathedral
  • In Toronto, eviction notices were delivered to Occupy protesters who have been camped in a downtown park since mid-October
  • Activists planned to converge at the University of California, Berkeley, in an attempt to set up an Occupy camp

The New York clear-out comes after police arrested dozens of people in Oakland, California as they closed the protest camp in the centre of that city on Monday morning.

There was a fatal shooting near the camp last week and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she had to evict the demonstrators "before someone else got hurt".

Since the weekend, police have also closed solidarity protest camps in Portland, Oregon; Burlington, Vermont; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; and St Louis, Missouri.

The Occupy movement, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and economic protest camps in Spain, is calling for a more equal distribution of the world's wealth.

The US activists say the billions of dollars in bank bailouts doled out during the recession allowed banks to resume earning huge profits - and executives to take home million-dollar bonuses.

Meanwhile, average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.

They also say the richest 1% of Americans do not pay their fair share in taxes.

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