- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2011

NEW YORK — New York City officials ordered Wall Street protesters to clear their sleeping bags and tarps from the park where they started a movement that has spread around the globe and forced presidential candidates to take notice.

But Occupy Wall Street demonstrators said they wouldn’t be going anywhere Friday morning, setting the stage for a showdown with police.

The owner of the private park where the demonstrators have camped out for nearly a month said it has become trashy and unsanitary. Brookfield Office Properties planned to begin a section-by-section power washing of Zuccotti Park at 7 a.m.

“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.”
The demand that protesters clear out sets up a 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 and inspired similar demonstrations across the country.

The protesters’ demands are amorphous, but they are united in blaming Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown.

There was a frantic scramble of activity in the park Thursday. Hundreds of demonstrators scrubbed benches and mopped the park’s stone flooring in an attempt to get Brookfield to abandon its plan. A last-ditch protest was planned at midnight.

Protesters would be allowed to return after the cleaning, which was expected to take 12 hours, but Brookfield said it plans to start enforcing regulations that have been ignored [-] no more tarps, no more sleeping bags, no more storing personal property on the ground. In other words, no more camping out for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have been living at Zuccotti Park for weeks.

The park is privately owned but is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is a member of Brookfield’s board of directors, said Brookfield has requested the city’s assistance in maintaining the park.
“We will continue to defend and guarantee their free-speech rights, but those rights do not include the ability to infringe on the rights of others,” Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna said, “which is why the rules governing the park will be enforced.”

Protesters say the only way they will leave is by force. Organizers sent out a mass email asking supporters to “defend the occupation from eviction.”

“We are doubling up on our determination to stay here as a result of this,” said 26-year-old Sophie Mascia, a Queens resident who has been living in Zuccotti Park for three weeks and intends to stay. “I think this is only going to strengthen our movement.”

The New York Police Department says it will make arrests if Brookfield requests it and laws are broken. Brookfield would not comment on how it will ensure that protesters do not try to set up camp again, only saying that the cleaning was necessary because conditions in the park had become unsanitary with the occupation.

The city is provoking a confrontation by enforcing a planned cleanup, said Doug Forand, a spokesman for 99 New York, which supports the protest.

“To us it’s clear the whole guise of cleanup is just a smokescreen for the mayor’s goal of shutting down the protest,” Mr. Forand said. “They are very clearly set on using this as a means of silencing the voices of dissent that the mayor does not want to hear.”

Mr. Forand said his group would stand in solidarity with the protesters early Friday.

As the hour neared for evacuation, Zuccotti Park had been cleared of about half of the protest’s supplies. The self-organized sanitation team had hired a private garbage truck to pick up discarded curbside garbage, and belongings were accumulating at a storage area at one corner of the park.

Nicole Carty, a 23-year-old from Atlanta, hoped the last-minute cleaning effort would stave off any confrontation Friday.

“We tell them, ‘Hey the park is clean, there’s no need for you to be here,’” she said. “If they insist on coming in, we will continue to occupy the space.”

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