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Judge rules Occupy can return to Zuccotti

  |   Nov. 15, 2011 at 10:56 AM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Occupy Wall Street protesters could return to Zuccotti Park just hours after police ordered them out and dismantled their tents, a New York judge ruled Tuesday.

New York Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings' order allows protesters to take tents and other items back into the privately owned park where the Occupy movement protesting wealth inequities and other social ills began two months ago, CNN reported.

City officials had said protests in the park could resume, but demonstrators wouldn't be allowed to pitch tents or sleep overnight.

The park will remain closed while officials review the legal situation, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"We have an obligation to enforce the laws today, to make sure that everybody has access to the park so everybody can protest. That's the First Amendment and it's No. 1 on our minds," he said. "We also have a similar, just as important obligation to protect the health and safety of the people in the park."

Bloomberg earlier defended his decision to clear Occupy Wall Street's camp at Zuccotti Park because of health and safety concerns.

Police began clearing tents and other materials from the park early Tuesday. Most Occupy Wall Street protesters left, but about 100 protesters linked arms and some were arrested.

He said protesters and the general public were welcome to "exercise their First Amendment rights" and otherwise enjoy the private park, but sleeping and camping were out, as were use of tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and protesters "going forward, must follow all park rules."

Bloomberg said he and park owner Brookfield Properties have become "increasingly concerned" in recent weeks the occupation was posing a health and fire safety hazard to protesters and the surrounding area.

He said the majority of protesters have been peaceful and responsible.

"But an unfortunate minority [has] not been, and as the number of protesters has grown, this has created an intolerable situation," Bloomberg said.

Occupy Wall Street organizers Monday announced on their Web site plans to "shut down Wall Street" with a demonstration Thursday to commemorate the 2-month anniversary of the beginning of the encampment, which has spurred similar demonstrations across the country.

Police in cities such as Oakland, Calif., Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., also cleared Occupy protest camps after problems arose.

In Chapel Hill, N.C., officials said they were justified in using a tactical squad armed with semi-automatic weapons to remove people from a vacant private downtown Chapel Hill building during the weekend, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Tuesday.

During a news conference Monday, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said members of the group were distributing literature on riot tactics and could have posed a threat to officers. The group included anarchists -- some affiliated with Occupy Chapel Hill -- but did not represent the Occupy Chapel Hill encampment downtown.

"We believe this was prudent, reasonable and appropriate given what we knew," Blue said of Sunday's police actions. "It is not a response we take lightly, but we do feel it was appropriate."

About a dozen people were detained and seven were arrested, charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering, police said. All seven were released Sunday.

Blue said police were investigating why officers handcuffed and detained a News & Observer reporter and a freelance writer during Sunday's raid.

Occupy Oakland protesters said they would join a larger Occupy protest planned Tuesday at the University of California, Berkeley, where tensions remain high from an Occupy protest last week, the Oakland Tribune reported.

Last week, students rallying against tuition increases and budget cuts tried to pitch tents near Sproul Plaza but police broke up the tents. Officers have been criticized for using force after videos posted online showed police using batons on students who linked arms to try to protect the encampment.

Ogawa Plaza near Oakland City Hall remained a focal point Monday for the Occupy Oakland movement after a 5 a.m. police raid, the Tribune said. At one point, as many as 600 people had crowded into the plaza hours after the raid cleared more than 100 tents and 33 people were arrested.

Police have said people are free to gather in the plaza but camping or sleeping would not be allowed.

In Denver, the district attorney's office said it wouldn't charge an Occupy Denver protester arrested in an Oct. 29 confrontation for allegedly assaulting a police officer, The Denver Post reported.

"Our review of the facts determined that the case wasn't appropriate for a state felony charge, and we have referred it back to the city attorney's office for a possible city-ordinance violation," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's office.

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