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Many cities US leave Wall Street protesters alone
NEW YORK (AP) ' While more U.S. cities are resorting to force to break up the Wall Street protests, many others ' Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, among them ' are content to let the demonstrations go on for now.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, said Friday that the several hundred protesters sleeping in Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters of the movement that began in mid-September, can stay as long as they obey the law.
"I can't talk about other cities," he said. "Our responsibilities are protect your rights and your safety. And I think we're trying to do that. We're trying to act responsibly and safely."
Still, the city made life a lot harder for the demonstrators: Fire inspectors seized a dozen cans of gasoline and six generators that powered lights, cooking equipment and laptops, saying they were safety hazards.
In the span of three days this week, police broke up protest encampments in Oakland, California, Atlanta, San Diego and Nashville, Tennessee.
Occupy Nashville protesters said Saturday that they plan to continue challenging a new curfew used to disband their encampment, despite two nights of arrests.
Tennessee state troopers arrested 26 people on Friday night, less than twenty-four hours after a pre-dawn raid where 29 were arrested. In both cases, the night magistrate refused to jail the protesters.
The arrests came after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's administration on Thursday announced it had created a 10 p.m. curfew and posted notices at the Legislative Plaza, near the Capitol.
About 150 Occupy Nashville protesters gathered for a meeting Saturday, and several said they would again challenge the curfew.
The Tennessean newspaper reported early Saturday morning that Magistrate Tom Nelson told troopers delivering the protesters to jail that he could "find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza."
All 26 people arrested Friday night were charged with trespassing; two were also charged with public intoxication; and one was also charged with criminal impersonation, Department of Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said. Officials said 72 troopers were involved in the curfew enforcement.
Haslam's administration has cited what officials described as deteriorating security and sanitary conditions on the plaza, saying that acts of lewd behavior had been observed by workers in state office buildings.
In San Diego, 51 people were arrested early Friday when authorities descended on a three-week-old encampment at the Civic Center Plaza and Children's Park and removed tents, canopies, tables and other furniture.
Officials there cited numerous complaints about human and animal feces, urination, drug use and littering, as well as damage to city property ' problems reported in many other cities as well. Police said the San Diego demonstrators can return without their tents and other belongings after the park is cleaned up.
Earlier this week, in the most serious clashes of the movement so far, more than 100 people were arrested and a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran suffered a skull fracture after Oakland police armed with tear gas and bean bag rounds broke up a 15-day encampment and repulsed an effort by demonstrators to retake the site.
Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore addressed hundreds of protesters in front of Oakland's City Hall on Friday, saying the events there over the past week have helped change the national discussion about the movement. He urged them to continue their movement until they run the country.
More protests were scheduled in Oakland on Saturday, including an evening rally against police brutality in front of City Hall with a march expected to follow.
Oakland's police chief defended the officiers involved in the effort to drive protesters from the encampment, saying they used what they believed to be the least amount of force possible to protect themselves.
"I want to ensure you that all allegations of misconduct and excessive uses of force are being thoroughly investigated," said Interim Chief Howard Jordan on Friday.
Other cities have rejected aggressive tactics against protesters, at least so far, some of them because they want to avoid the violence seen in Oakland or, as some have speculated, because they are expecting the protests to wither anyway with the onset of cold weather.
Officials are watching the encampments for health and safety problems but say that protesters exercising their rights to free speech and assembly will be allowed to stay as long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.
"We're accommodating a free speech event as part of normal business and we're going to continue to enforce city rules," said Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the mayor of Seattle, where about 40 protesters are camping at City Hall. "They have the right to peacefully assemble. Ultimately what the mayor is doing is strike a balance."
Authorities have similarly taken a largely hands-off approach in Portland, Oregon, where about 300 demonstrators are occupying two parks downtown; Memphis, Tennessee, where the number of protesters near City Hall has ranged from about a dozen to about 100; and in Salt Lake City, where activists actually held a vigil outside police headquarters this week to thank the department for not using force against them.
In the nation's capital, U.S. Park Police distributed fliers this week at an encampment of more than 100 tents near the White House. And while the fliers listed the park service regulations that protesters were violating, including a ban on camping, a park police spokesman said the notices should not be considered warnings.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the protesters will not be forcibly removed even after the Sunday afternoon deadline he set for them. He said he intends to seek their ouster by way of court action, something that could take several weeks.
"When you see police having to quell disturbances with tear gas or other means, it's not what the police want and it's not what we want to see in our society," Pare said.
Similarly, in London, church and local government authorities are going to court to evict protesters camped outside St. Paul's Cathedral ' though officials acknowledged Friday it could take weeks or months to get an order to remove the tent city.
Several hundred protesters against economic inequality and corporate excesses have been camped outside the building since Oct. 15. On Oct. 21 cathedral officials shut the church, saying the campsite represented a health and safety hazard.
It was the first time the 300-year-old church, one of London's best-known buildings, had closed since German planes bombed the city during World War II.
In Minneapolis, where dozens have been sleeping overnight on a government plaza between a county building and City Hall, the three-week-old occupation has been far tamer than those in other cities, with only a few arrests.
Sheriff Rich Stanek has made it a practice to meet with protesters daily to talk about their issues and the day ahead, and he has refused to engage what he called "the 1 percent" who want to cause trouble.
"We decided that's not the tactic we want to take. Doing that sometimes requires biting your tongue," he said. He added: "Some people have said that's 'Minnesota nice.' It's a balance."
Niedowski reported from Providence, Rhode Island.
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