A group of Irish Travelers facing eviction from their English campsite won a last-minute reprieve Monday when a judge prevented bailiffs from removing any structures in their settlement.
The tense standoff between residents of Dale Farm, 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of London, and local officials saw protesters chaining themselves to the gates of their camp as bailiffs moved in to enforce an eviction order.
The showdown follows a decade-long legal battle between the government and the Travelers _ a traditionally nomadic group similar to, but ethnically distinct from, Gypsies or Roma people.
Late Monday, a judge at London's High Court issued an injunction preventing local authority Basildon Council from clearing structures, including cars and mobile homes, from the site before another court hearing Friday.
The news drew cheers from Travelers at the site, prompting chants of "We're not going to go!" as some protesters began unchaining themselves from the barricades.
"We are delighted," said resident Mary Slattery. "Every day is a bonus. We've got one last chance and we're not going to give up _ this gives us so much hope."
Council leader Tony Ball said authorities were "extremely disappointed and frustrated" by the ruling but would comply by halting the evictions until Friday.
The conflict over the settlement has raged since 2001, when Travelers bought and settled on a former scrapyard next to a legal Travelers' site. The local authority waged a long legal battle to remove them, which it finally won at the High Court last month.
The local authority says it's a simple planning issue because the 86 families lack permission to pitch their mobile homes on the land. The Travelers, however, claim discrimination _ the latest chapter in a centuries-old story of mistrust between the nomads and British society.
While many local residents agree with the decision to evict the Travelers, Academy Award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave has come to the community's support, and the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged authorities to find a peaceful solution.
The Travelers were being supported by dozens of activists and had built a tower of scaffolding and used cars and vans to block the entrance. One sign warned of drastic consequences if a gate were to be opened.
"Behind this gate, a woman is attached by her neck," the sign read. "If you attempt to open this gate you will kill her."