NEW YORK - (AP) - Hundreds of police officers in riot gear beforedawn Tuesday raided the New York City park where the Occupy WallStreet protests began, evicting and arresting hundreds from theepicenter of the worldwide movement protesting corporate greed andeconomic inequality.
Hours later, the status of the now-empty park remained uncertainas the National Lawyers Guild obtained a court order allowing theprotesters to return with their tents. A state court judge washearing arguments on the legality of the surprise eviction.
At a news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said theevacuation of the two-month-old encampment was conducted in themiddle of the night "to reduce the risk of confrontation in thepark, and to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood."
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the park overnight inriot gear, holding plastic shields and batons which in some caseswere used on protesters. Police flooded the park with klieg lightsand used bull horns to announce that everyone had to leave. Videoshot by a television helicopter and released by The AssociatedPress showed hundreds of people surging against each other in theconfusion.
"I was bleeding profusely. They shoved a lot of people's facesinto the ground," said protester Max Luisdaniel Santos, 31,looking shaken. He pulled open his cheek to show where his teethhad cut into flesh. He said he lost his shoes in the scuffle butwasn't arrested.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said around 200 people werearrested, including dozens who tried to resist by linking arms atthe center of the park or chaining themselves together with bicyclelocks.
As the workday began, hundreds of the protesters marched throughlower Manhattan, looking for a new space to gather. Some chanted,"This is what democracy looks like" and others chanted: "Hey,hey, ho, ho, our billionaire mayor has got to go."
The park itself remained surrounded by police barricades.
Protesters in New York fought back the threat of a similiarsweep weeks ago, but momentum against the camps appears to begrowing as authorities across the U.S. grow impatient with theself-proclaimed leaderless movement and its lack of a focuseddemand.
"From the beginning, I have said that the City had twoprincipal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, andguaranteeing the protesters' First Amendment rights" to freespeech, Bloomberg said in a statement. "But when those two goalsclash, the health and safety of the public and our first respondersmust be the priority."
The city told protesters they could come back after thecleaning, but under new tougher rules, including no tents, sleepingbags or tarps, which would effectively put an end to the encampmentif enforced.
Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Streetcamps around the U.S. have intensified, and protesters have beenordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocateso that parks can be cleaned.
Police have made similar sweeps and arrests in recent days inOakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. Two camps had fatalshootings last week, including a suicide, and bodies were found attwo other camps.
To see Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press conference on the Zuccotti Park raid and also Chopper 12 footage of the eviction, go to channel 612 on your iO digital cable box and select iO Extra.