|The police drove most of the protesters
out of the square within an hour
© AFP Stan Honda
NEW YORK (AFP) – Police flooded into the New York cradle of anti-Wall Street protests early Tuesday, driving out demonstrators and tearing down tents in a surprise strike at the heart of the two-month-old movement.
The late-night crackdown at the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, launched after similar evictions in other cities, signaled a tougher line by US authorities towards the protests against Wall Street and Washington elites.
New York’s Zuccotti Park, where protesters have been camped out since September 17, has been the symbolic epicenter of a movement that has spread to several US cities and inspired similar action around the world.
The rapid operation, launched at around 1:00 am (0600 GMT), drove most of the protesters out of the square within an hour, with many heeding orders to leave while others were shoved into police vans and buses.
Police cordoned off the area, while clean-up crews tore down tents and garbage trucks carted away piles of signs beneath a circling helicopter.
Around a dozen protesters held out for a few hours longer, but by 4:30 am (0930 GMT) the square was completely clear, according to AFP correspondents.
Police declined to say how many people had been arrested, but AFP correspondents saw several dozen being hauled away.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the operation, saying the protesters had the right to make their views known and could return to the park to protest, but would not be allowed to camp out there.
“Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases, to harm others,” he said in a statement after the square had been cleared.
“The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others.
Small business owners in the area of Zuccotti Park had complained about the noise and unsanitary conditions in the camp, accusing the demonstrators of trashing their store bathrooms and driving away customers.
Plans to temporarily clear the privately owned square so that it could be cleaned had been put on hold at the last minute one month ago in what the protesters hailed as a victory.
But on Tuesday the police appeared to have taken the demonstrators by surprise in the early morning raid and quickly overwhelmed them.
“I was dead asleep. Then I was like, oh man, there was cops kicking the tents and people yelling ‘this is not a drill!'” said Mutsukai Iroppoi, 22.
Alden Bevington, 35, another protester, said he was also caught off guard.
“I was asleep. Then the lights came on. It was designed to freak people out, an overwhelming show of force. … There was zero violence from what I saw.”
The demonstrations against corporate greed have seen an eclectic group of mainly young people set up tent cities across the country in what some authorities have said is a threat to public health and safety.
On Monday riot police dismantled a similar protest camp in Oakland, California near San Francisco arresting more than 30 protesters. Some 50 protesters were arrested in Portland, also on the West Coast, on Sunday.
Fueling the sense of turmoil, a top advisor to the mayor of Oakland, where demonstrations have repeatedly descended into clashes in recent weeks, resigned in protest over the clampdown.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the early-morning operation was prompted by a recent murder that happened adjacent to the camp.
“The encampment had become a place where we had repeated violence and this week a murder,” Quan told reporters. “We had to bring the camp to an end before someone else got hurt.”
The protests, coming a year ahead of presidential and congressional elections, have brought together a loose coalition of mainly liberal Americans opposed to the “one percent” of business and political elites.
The demonstrators accuse Washington of enabling the bankers that brought down the American economy in 2008, and have said they are inspired by the Arab Spring revolts that have convulsed the Middle East.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license