LONDON Officials attached legal notices to the tents of anti-capitalist protesters in London's financial district on Wednesday, giving them 24 hours to end a demonstration that has shaken the Church of England and upset senior politicians.
The letters ordered them to leave the area outside St Paul's Cathedral by 1800 GMT on Thursday or face action in the High Court to end a month-long protest inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Police in New York evicted protesters from their camp in a park near Wall Street on Tuesday.
The City of London Corporation, which administers the financial district, said talks aimed at setting a departure date had failed and it was time for the campers to go home.
"We have served them a legal notice," a City of London spokesman said. "We are informing them and giving them 24 hours to move their tents from the highway."
The cathedral is one of London's most popular tourist attractions. It was the venue for the 1981 wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and for the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965.
Scores of demonstrators pitched their tents in front of the 17th century landmark on October 15 after police blocked an attempt to camp outside the nearby London Stock Exchange.
Like similar camps around the world, the protesters have a wide range of grievances, from social inequality and greed to bankers' pay and the use of public money to bail out banks.
Occupy London representative Spyro van Leemnen said the protesters would not leave.
"We are not complying," he said. "We are prepared to take this to the High Court and we have a legal team who will represent us."
Church leaders initially supported the protest, allowing tents to be pitched on a paved area in front of the cathedral. However, a later decision to close its doors on health and safety grounds divided the Anglican church and led to two senior clerics standing down.
The cathedral's ruling body met on Wednesday to plan their next step. There has been talk of the protesters moving their tents to land wholly owned by the Church of England.
"We recognise the local authority's statutory right to proceed with the action it has today," the cathedral said after the meeting in a statement that shed no light on its plans.
Prime Minister David Cameron has criticised the camp, saying "protesting is something you, on the whole, should do on two feet, rather than lying down." Mayor of London Boris Johnson said it was "thoroughly maddening" and he hoped "a judge frankly has the cojones" to evict them.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)