By Jason Kandel
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Throngs of anti-Wall Street activists hunkered down in their Los Angeles camp for another night of uncertainty early on Tuesday as police stayed largely on the sidelines 24 hours after a deadline to vacate passed.
But crowds that had swelled to more than 2,000 at their peak late on Sunday as protesters from outside the City Hall encampment streamed in to help forestall a raid had dwindled to a core group of several hundred by late Monday night.
Compared with the raucous atmosphere at the encampment a day earlier, the mood was subdued on Tuesday, with campers milling about or playing drums and other instruments.
Police in riot gear had closed in on the Occupy LA compound early on Monday as protesters started blocking traffic, but a force of about 300 officers stopped short of clearing the camp and withdrew once they reopened streets for Monday commuters.
Four people were arrested on suspicion of being present at an unlawful assembly.
The Los Angeles encampment, which officials had tolerated for weeks even as other cities moved in to clear out similar camps, is among the largest on the West Coast aligned with a 2-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality and excesses of the U.S. financial system.
Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andrew Smith said the number of tents had declined since the weekend to about 270, down from 500 pitched at their height.
"It's calm as can be over there," he said from a nearby corner on Monday night. Small clusters of officers stood by casually at various intersections at the fringes of the park, with no imminent sign of large-scale police action.
Smith declined to say when police might try to enforce the eviction order issued last week by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who gave the activists until 12:01 a.m. on Monday to dismantle their tents and clear out or face forcible removal and arrest.
Occupy campers seemed resigned to the fact that their 8-week-old presence was nearing an end.
"Now, it's like any time they could come in," said Elise Whitaker, 21, one of the organizers of the group. "They're going to come in, and I'm going to be arrested and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Attorneys for Occupy LA asked a federal judge on Monday for a court order barring police from evicting the camp, arguing that city officials had violated their civil rights by ordering it dismantled.
Villaraigosa initially had welcomed the protesters, going so far as to supply them with ponchos for inclement weather. But as city officials complained of crime, sanitation problems and property damage they blamed on the camp, the mayor decided the group had to go.
He issued his eviction notice last Friday after talks on a plan to induce the protesters to leave voluntarily collapsed, setting the stage for the latest showdown between leaders of a major U.S. city and the Occupy movement.
The mayor has promised to find alternative shelter for homeless people who had taken up residence at City Hall and were estimated to account for at least a third of those camped out there since the start of October.
Whitaker said there was widespread speculation that eviction by police might come after the city opens its winter shelters on December 1, a point at which homeless residents of the Occupy LA camp would drift away on their own.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)