NY officials delay protesters' park cleanup

NEW YORK Fri Oct 14, 2011 8:57am EDT

Occupy Wall Street protesters clean New York's Zuccotti Park ahead of an eviction notice issued by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg October 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Occupy Wall Street protesters clean New York's Zuccotti Park ahead of an eviction notice issued by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg October 14, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Officials in New York City on Friday postponed a planned clean-up of the downtown Manhattan park where anti-Wall Street protesters set up camp a month ago, averting what many feared could have been a showdown with authorities.

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said the private owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, decided late on Thursday to delay the cleaning, which had been slated to begin at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT). He offered no reason for the delay.

Protesters celebrated the postponement at the publicly accessible park, where the mood was festive.

However, at least seven people were seen being arrested when several hundred people left the park and marched through the downtown financial district. A spokesman for the New York Police Department confirmed there were arrests but did not say how many or provide any details.

Many protesters had feared the cleaning would be an attempt to shut down the movement that has sparked solidarity protests in more than 1,400 cities. There were plans for global rallies on Saturday in 71 countries, according to Occupy Together and United for Global Change.

Protesters are upset that the billions of dollars in U.S. bank bailouts doled out during the recession allowed banks to resume earning huge profits while average Americans have had scant relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.

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

Roughly 1,000 protesters were on hand early on Friday at the New York park, where many had been up all night cleaning it themselves.

Throughout the park, big buckets were filled with brooms and mops. Many protesters had packed up their belonging in preparation for the clean-up.

"We clean up after ourselves. It's not like there's rats and roaches running around the park," said Bailey Bryant, 28, an employee at a Manhattan bank who visits the camp after work and on weekends.

Some at the park feared a clean-up was still in the works as a ploy to evict them.

"It's almost too good to be true," said Sofia Johnson, 17, a high school student from Brooklyn, of the postponed clean up.

"I think it's still a possibility and in a climate like this, letting your guard down completely seems like a naive thing to do," she said.

Brookfield has said conditions at the park were "unsanitary and unsafe," with no toilets and a shortage of garbage cans. Neighbors complained of lewdness, drug use, harassment and offensive odours from the protesters, Brookfield said.

Brookfield did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Friday morning.

CONSISTENT WITH PARK REGULATIONS

Brookfield representatives, escorted by police, handed out notices to the protesters on Thursday to tell them that the park would be cleaned in three stages and would reopen for public use consistent with park regulations.

But the rules ban camping, tents or other structures, lying down on the ground, placing tarps or sleeping bags on the ground, and the storage of personal property -- everything the protesters have been doing since they set up on September 17.

In announcing the postponement, the deputy mayor said in a statement that Brookfield was "postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation."

"Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation," he said.

Hundreds of people have been arrested at rallies in New York, and dozens have been arrested in the past couple of weeks from Boston and Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Austin and San Francisco.

Solidarity rallies have also sprung up at more than 140 U.S. college campuses in 25 states, according to Occupy Colleges. (Editing by Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)

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