Showdown averted in New York's Wall Street protests

NEW YORK Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:16pm EDT

1 of 10. Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement march down Wall Street during a protest march through the financial district of New York October 14, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anti-Wall Street protesters claimed victory on Friday when plans to clean the park they occupy were postponed, while police forces in financial capitals around the world braced for a weekend of rallies.

A planned cleanup of the Lower Manhattan park that has been home to the Occupy Wall Street movement since September 17 was delayed just hours before it was due to begin by Brookfield Office Properties, which manages the publicly accessible park.

The move averted a possible showdown between police and protesters who viewed the cleanup as a ploy to evict them. Protesters loudly cheered the decision, and several hundred set off marching toward the city's financial district.

Police arrested 14 people, but there were no widespread disruptions.

"This development has emboldened the movement and sent a clear message that the power of the people has prevailed against Wall Street," Occupy Wall Street said in a statement, estimating more than 3,000 people had gathered in the park.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his weekly radio address on Friday, said his office was not involved in the decision to postpone the cleanup.

"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying, 'If you don't stop this, we'll make your life much more difficult,'" said Bloomberg, who added that he did not know which officials had called the company.

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 got scant relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.

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

Many protesters feared the cleaning would be an attempt to shut down the movement that has sparked solidarity protests in other cities. Concerns also abounded about a repeat of the sort of riots that occurred in 1988 when New York police tried to clear another park, Tompkins Square, injuring 44 people.

RATS AND ROACHES?

Bloomberg said Brookfield wanted a few more days to try to reach an agreement with the protesters, who have undertaken their own efforts to clear debris from the park.

Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, Brookfield could again try to clean the park, which Bloomberg said could put police in an even more difficult situation.

"It will be a little harder, I think, at that point in time to provide police protection," he said.

Meanwhile, authorities in New York, London, Frankfurt, Athens and elsewhere braced for demonstrations on Saturday.

Rallies were planned in some 71 countries, according to Occupy Together and United for Global Change.

In New York, organizers planned demonstrations in Times Square and Washington Square Park. Protesters will also march to JPMorgan Chase bank branch to withdraw their money.

"It's going to be big, it's going to be global," said David Sierra, 23, a carpenter from Queens.

In Denver, at least 21 people were arrested on Friday and tents were removed from the Occupy Denver protest.

Protesters in New York had spent much of the night tidying the park themselves, clearing away debris in hopes of keeping out Brookfield, a major real estate company that counts Bloomberg's girlfriend Diana Taylor among its board members.

"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.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Will Dunham and Paul Simao)

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