LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters who have been camped in front of Los Angeles’ City Hall for nearly two months will be evicted on Monday, city officials said on Friday.
“We’re asking the participants in the Occupy LA encampment to pack their belongings and leave in an orderly manner,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a news conference with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
“It is time to close the park and repair the grounds so that we can restore public access to the park,” he said.
Protesters need to pack up their tents and dismantle their encampment by 12:01 a.m. local time on November 28, Villaraigosa said.
The Los Angeles encampment is among the oldest and largest on the West Coast aligned with the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street demonstrations protesting economic inequality in the country and excesses of the U.S. financial system.
Staking its place since October 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the compound has grown to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, according to estimates by organizers and municipal officials.
Compared to other major cities, Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group. Mayor Villaraigosa at one point provided rain ponchos to campers during inclement weather.
A protester from the encampment interrupted the news conference to read a statement he said had been voted on by the group’s collective assembly, saying “Occupy Los Angeles would like to express their rejection of the City of Los Angeles’ proposal that we leave City Hall by November 28, 2011.”
Villaraigosa thanked the protester for his thoughts, but was firm about the eviction deadline.
“It took a couple of hours to put up those tents,” he said. “It only takes a couple of hours to take them down.”
Attorney Jim Lafferty, an advocate for Occupy LA and executive director of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles chapter, said on Tuesday the group had been offered the chance to lease 10,000 square feet of space in an old bookstore inside a downtown shopping mall for $1 a year for 10 years, as well as two plots of land on which it could grow its own food. He did not specify how much acreage was involved.
The group rejected the relocation proposal after a debate Tuesday. Many protesters called the offer an attempt to co-opt them. By Wednesday, city officials were downplaying the outcome of talks.
Occupy LA has posted an account of a negotiation meeting Wednesday between protesters and police about the future of the encampment on its website. The posting quoted an unnamed police official as telling the group’s negotiators: “The use of force will be determined by the actions in the camp. ... I don’t want officers shot with paint, fire extinguishers, etc.”
Villaraigosa said Friday the police reaction would be different from more violent crackdowns in cities like Oakland.
The Occupy Oakland encampment had been plagued by violence before being shut down by police earlier this month. Oakland’s first attempt to evict the encampment sparked confrontations between protesters and police that evolved into one of the most violent episodes since the anti-Wall Street movement began in New York.
Former Marine Scott Olsen was critically injured during those altercations, galvanizing protests nationwide.
“We’ve not stared each other down across barricades and barbed wire,” Villaraigosa said, referring to the riot police and tear gas used in Oakland.
Beck said he wanted to avoid violence and arrests.
“This is a national movement that the city of Los Angeles wanted to accommodate as best we could,” Beck said. “We have been reasonable. We have given 56 days.”
Writing by Mary Slosson in Colorado; Editing by David Bailey