Barriers lifted at Occupy Wall St park in New York

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 11, 2012 1:18 PM
Barriers lifted at Occupy Wall St park in New York

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters assembled in a New York park on Wednesday, cheered by the overnight removal of barriers that restricted their access for nearly two months to the movement's birthplace.

The barriers had surrounded Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park since November 15, when police evicted several hundred economic inequality protesters who had camped in the privately owned public space near Wall Street for two months.

Late Tuesday night, security guards for the park owner, Brookfield Office Properties, removed the barriers that had limited access to two single file entrances. A couple of hundred protesters streamed into the space to celebrate.

"The police barricades are down at Liberty Square," Occupy Wall Street said on its Facebook page on Tuesday. "Maybe Brookfield and the NYPD (New York Police Department) have learned what we all know; we are not going anywhere. This movement is here to stay."

Nationally, police have dealt a setback to the Occupy movement by clearing encampments other major cities across the country. Cold weather and perhaps protest fatigue have weakened others.

But the movement has clearly influenced the national political conversation, with President Barack Obama echoing some of its themes in calling for a "fair shot" and "fair share" for all.

Occupy protesters are looking to seize on issues such as the state of the economy and home foreclosures this year with strategies that include establishing tent communities and renting urban spaces while maintaining a presence on the internet and in popular culture.

In New York, Brookfield security guards have strictly enforced the park rules, which are designed to prevent the protesters from setting up camp again. On Wednesday they prevented protesters from bringing food into the park to feed a large group and overnight they stopped them from bringing in boxes of books.

Three people were arrested overnight for trespassing, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest after they lay down and refused to get up, police said.

The removal of the metal barricades came one day after the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote to the New York City Department of Buildings to argue that Brookfield had violated laws that required unobstructed public access to the park.

Brookfield Office Properties declined to comment on the removal of the barriers.

When protesters initially set up camp in Zuccotti Park in mid-September, they sparked a national Occupy movement -- including dozens of occupations of public spaces in other U.S. cities -- against economic inequality.

Protesters are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts were given to banks while "average" Americans are still suffering financially, and accuse politicians of being swayed by large campaign donations from big businesses.

(Additional reporting By Brendan McDermid)