New York riot police tear down protesters' camp as battle of Wall Street rages
Anti-capitalist protesters were locked in a legal battle with the mayor of New York last night after their Occupy Wall Street protest camp was demolished and demonstrators evicted.
Lawyers for the protesters, who have inspired dozens of demonstrations around the world, were arguing in New York Supreme Court that a police raid on the camp early yesterday morning was illegal.
Hundreds of police officers wearing riot gear burst into Manhattan's Zuccotti Park at 1am, arresting more than 140 people inside the two-month-old camp and about 60 outside in chaotic scenes.
As they tore down tents, seized tonnes of equipment and binned the 5,000 books in the camp's library, police blocked photographers from observing the raid and physically removed reporters from the site.
Michael Bloomberg, the city's mayor, said he ordered the eviction because "health and safety conditions became intolerable" in the park and protesters were encroaching on the rights of others.
"New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself," he told a press conference. But he added: "No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities."
It was the most serious setback so far to the "Occupy" movement, which over the past eight weeks has spawned protests against the economic status quo from California to New Zealand under the rallying cry "We are the 99pc".
Scuffles broke out last night and several journalists were arrested as police stopped protesters trying to get back into the park.
During the eviction, demonstrators screamed at police and scrambled to keep hold of their belongings. One group chained themselves to tables and trees in the camp's "kitchen" area and had to be cut out. Claims that some had been pepper sprayed were denied by police.
Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner, said he was "proud of the officers' professionalism" in the face of taunts from protesters.
"Operationally, it went well," he said. Most of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. During the raid, the nearby Brooklyn Bridge was closed. Subway stations around the camp were shut and police helicopters patrolled the skies.
Later, private security guards were seen protecting bank branches in the vicinity.
The evicted demonstrators marched north, pursued by police. At dawn they gathered half a mile away at Foley Square to plot their next move. The group says it has no leaders, but Nicholas (25) did most of the talking. "This only feeds us, it only makes us stronger," he said, while rolling a cigarette.
Some New Yorkers, however, were happy to see the camp removed. Businessmen from nearby companies described the jetwashed and bleached pavements as "a beautiful sight".
Outside City Hall, a woman in a suit shouted at the protesters: "You people stink! Take a shower! Get a job". (© Daily Telegraph, London)