NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested during the weekend as police cleared New York’s Zuccotti Park, where demonstrators had gathered for the struggling movement’s six-month anniversary.
The park remained closed on Sunday with a sprinkling of police surrounding it, keeping the area clear while crews cleaned up following Saturday night’s protests. A sweep just before midnight, when roughly 300 demonstrators had gathered in the park, capped a day of protests and marching in lower Manhattan.
Organizer Jose Martin, who is coordinating with the National Law Guild’s New York City chapter, estimated police arrested 74 protesters on Saturday. Police did not have a final tally, a department spokesman said.
“Every time they use violence to put us down, it only increases the number of people that are empathetic to the cause. It adds fuel to the fire and draws attention to the movement,” said Ed Needham, one of several members of the leaderless movement’s press team.
“Mayor Bloomberg did us a big help last night in terms of fundraising. But it’s not just about the financial aspects - it’s not about people writing checks, although they will, it’s about people standing up to be counted.”
Inspired by the pro-democracy Arab Spring, the Wall Street protesters targeted U.S. financial policies they blamed for the yawning income gap between rich and poor in the country, between what they called the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The demonstrators set up camp in Zuccotti Park on September 17 and sparked a wave of protests across the United States.
On Saturday evening, several dozen police ringed the park and watched the crowd. Detective Brian Sessa said no action would be taken as long as the activists made no move to establish a camp.
Shortly after 11:30 p.m., some protesters began to erect tents near the centre of the park and police began to move in, according to protester Cari Machet.
When about 100 officers entered the park, dozens of protesters sat on the ground and refused orders to leave. They were then carried out in plastic handcuffs and put in police vehicles.
The park was cleared within 20 minutes and by midnight no protesters remained in its boundaries.
Events got under way near midday on Saturday, with street theatre troupes performing and guitar players leading sing-alongs. Some boisterous protesters marched through the streets of the financial district, chanting “bankers are gangsters” and cursing at police.
As they have in past marches, protesters led police on a series of cat-and-mouse chases. Marchers at the front of the crowd would suddenly turn down narrow side streets, startling tourists and forcing police to send officers on motor scooters to contain the crowd.
The movement has made headlines for its clashes with police after campsites were set up for months in cities from New York to California. The camps were eventually shut down by authorities citing zoning regulations and public health concerns.
Protester Paul Sylvester, 24, of Massachusetts said he was “thrilled” to be back at the park but said he hoped the movement would begin to crystallize around specific goals.
“We need to be more concrete and specific,” he said. Critics say the Occupy movement lacks direction and clear demands.
It continues to draw celebrities, however. On Saturday night, independent filmmaker Michael Moore strode through the park before the police incursion.
“I think it’s great that this movement continues to grow,” Moore said. “I think the goals are clear. People are concerned that they have no control over their own democracy. They have no control over their own lives.
“This is the beginning. This park is sacred ground for millions across the country.”
In New York, the Occupy movement lost significant momentum in November when a pre-dawn sweep broke up the encampment at Zuccotti. Occupy protests in Oakland, California, in January led to police firing tear gas into crowds of protesters and more than 200 were arrested.
Additional reporting by Christine Kearney; Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Doina Chiacu