Originally published Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 3:50 AM

Supporters streaming into NYC protest site

Supporters are streaming into a plaza where protesters who have been camped out for a month planned to resist evacuating so the park could be cleaned.

Associated Press

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Supporters are streaming into a plaza where protesters who have been camped out for a month planned to resist evacuating so the park could be cleaned.

There is a strong police presence at the site early Friday, with at least 20 police vans and other vehicles lining the street across from the park. Several hundred people are gathered.

The protesters say the planned cleanup at 7 a.m. is merely a pretext to evict them. They've been camped out there for a month in a protest over wealth distribution that has inspired similar demonstrations across the globe.

People in the crowd are holding sings and chanting things "The people united will never be defeated" and "All day, all week, occupy Wall Street."

The crowd is mostly young, but some workers wearing union jackets are there. The protesters say they're preparing for a day of civil disobedience.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Wall Street protesters scrubbed, mopped and picked up garbage at the corporate-owned park they have been occupying in an attempt to stave off a scheduled cleanup Friday that demonstrators suspect is a pretext to evict them.

While moving out mattresses and camping supplies, organizers were mixed on how they would respond when police arrive at the request of Zuccotti Park owners to help remove the occupiers from the public plaza so it can be cleaned.

Some protesters said they would resist; others planned to cooperate but engage in nonviolent civil disobedience if they are not allowed back in the park.

Publicly traded real estate firm Brookfield Office Properties planned to begin a section-by-section power-washing at 7 a.m. The company called the conditions at the park unsanitary and unsafe.

Han Shan, 39, of New York, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, said it was clear to everyone that the plan is to shut down the protest.

"There is a strong commitment to nonviolence, but I know people are going to vigorously resist eviction," he said. "I think we're going to see a huge number of supporters throughout New York and the surrounding area defend this thing ... I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail, but I'm not holding my breath."

Some 600 to 700 protesters gathered in early morning darkness Friday. Many had not slept and were busy cleaning while a light rain fell. The group's sanitation team had hired a private garbage truck to pick up discarded curbside garbage.

Dozens of people, including a man in a Santa Claus suit, tossed out trash and used thick brooms and water from buckets to sweep the concrete.

A few people hunkered down under tarps but few slept. Police kept a low profile - a couple of officers walked through the encampment while other police sat in vans Thursday evening but did not remain through the night.

The company said protesters will be allowed to return after the Brookfield cleanup, which was expected to take 12 hours, but regulations that had been ignored earlier will be enforced.

No more tarps, no more sleeping bags, no more storing personal property on the ground. In other words, no more camping out for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have been living at the lower Manhattan park for weeks. The park is privately owned but is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

The demand that protesters clear out sets up a turning point in a movement that began Sept. 17 with a small group of activists and has swelled to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life. Occupy Wall Street has inspired similar demonstrations across the country and become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race.

The protesters' demands are wide-ranging, but they are united in blaming Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is a member of Brookfield's board of directors, said Brookfield has requested the city's assistance in maintaining the park.

"We will continue to defend and guarantee their free speech rights, but those rights do not include the ability to infringe on the rights of others," Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna said, "which is why the rules governing the park will be enforced."

Many protesters said the only way they would leave is by force. Organizers sent out a mass email Thursday asking supporters to "defend the occupation from eviction."

Nicole Carty, a 23-year-old from Atlanta, hoped the group's cleaning effort would stave off any confrontation.

"We tell them, `Hey the park is clean, there's no need for you to be here,'" she said. "If they insist on coming in, we will continue to occupy the space."

But a young protester wearing Revolutionary War-style tri-cornered hat said some among the group don't realize "you gotta follow the law."

Gabriel Brown, 28, slowly pushed a shopping cart of his stuff away from the park. He planned to stash it nearby for safety in case of a showdown with authorities.

"Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win a war," he said.

Brown said he lost his job at McDonalds a month ago. He spent the past week and a half sleeping at the park and protesting, but he didn't want the end to be ugly.

"You've got a lot of amateurs here ...," he said. "I tell people don't block the pedestrian traffic, keep a Bill of Rights handy and be respectful of police. I'm for the rule of law, not chaos."

Protesters have had some run-ins with police, but mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and an incident in which some protesters were pepper-sprayed seemed to energize their movement.

The New York Police Department said it will make arrests if Brookfield requests it and laws are broken. Brookfield would not comment on how it will ensure that protesters do not try to set up camp again, only saying that the cleaning was necessary.

Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate, expressed concern over the city's actions as he inspected the park Thursday afternoon and listened to protesters' complaints.

"This has been a very peaceful movement by the people," he said. "I'm concerned about this new set of policies. At the very least, the city should slow down."

Attorneys from the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild - who are representing an Occupy Wall Street sanitation working group - have written a letter to Brookfield saying the company's request to get police to help implement its cleanup plan threatens "fundamental constitutional rights."

"There is no basis in the law for your request for police intervention, nor have you cited any," the attorneys wrote in a letter Thursday to Brookfield CEO Richard B. Clark.

The protest has led sympathetic groups in other cities to stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake and Occupy Seattle, among them.

Occupy Seattle protesters running a live video feed from their corporate power protest at Seattle's Westlake Park said police started making arrests Thursday. Police confirmed that 10 people were arrested. City law bans camping in parks.

The situation was tense near Colorado's state Capitol early Friday, where hundreds of Occupy Denver protesters had been told to clear out or risk arrest.

Police warned about 3 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT) that they would start clearing the park, but no arrests had been made yet.

Several protests are planned this weekend across the U.S. and Canada, and European activists are also organizing.


Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister, Tom McElroy, Cara Anna, Deepti Hajela, Colleen Long, Cristian Salazar, Verena Dobnik, and Meghan Barr contributed to this report.

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