Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Occupy protesters return to New York park (Al-Jazeera)
Anti-Wall Street demonstrators return to Manhattan square for first time in two months after barricades are torn down.
Hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters have returned to Zuccotti Park in New York's financial district after the park owners took down metal barricades around the Manhattan square.
On Tuesday evening, about 250 protesters flocked to the park where the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement was born for the first time since they were evicted two months ago.
Gathering around a large model of the Statue of Liberty, they sang and celebrated.
The park's owners, Brookfield Office Properties, removed the barricades after a legal challenge to the restrictions from several civil rights groups.
The barriers had been erected immediately after police forcibly evicted a tent camp established by the protesters, who say they are campaigning against corporate greed.
The protesters were ecstatic on returning to the park.
"It's a big victory. They accepted they wanted to suppress the right of the protest. We will see what happens now," Bill Dobs, a spokesman with the OWS movement, said.
Rules imposed by Brookfield to combat protesters' aim of setting up a permanent tent village - including a ban on lying down or erecting tents - remained in force. However, it was unclear whether protesters would try to defy the regulations.
"If you are in #nyc and you are a member of the 99 per cent, come join us at LibertySq," OWS encouraged followers on Twitter.
"We hope Zuccotti Park can now resume its rightful place as a centre for meeting and protest in New York City," New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said.
On Monday, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the city's buildings department saying the barricades were a violation of city zoning law because they restricted public access to the space.
"I certainly think the political pressure and public pressure and the letter from the civil rights lawyers' organisations all brought to bear on the city and Brookfield and made them consider acting a little more reasonably, at least for now," Gideon Oliver, one of the attorneys representing the demonstrators, said.
Since the eviction, members of the public had only been able to enter the park through two checkpoints that were guarded by police officers or security personnel.
The granite plaza near the New York Stock Exchange is one of more than 500 "bonus plazas" in the city - privately owned public parks born of a little-known compromise struck in 1961 between the city and developers.
According to the compromise, in exchange for building a towering skyscraper, developers had to also construct a plaza that would provide "light and air" for passers-by. The bigger the plaza, the taller the building could be.
Virtually all bonus plazas are required to be open 24 hours a day, barring a safety issue. They are governed by specific regulations in the zoning law.
For example, the law states that the layout of such plazas must promote public use and easy pedestrian circulation throughout the space. The complaint had accused the city of failing to enforce the law by allowing the barricades to exist.
Buildings department spokesman Tony Sclafani said on Monday that inspectors had found no problems at the park.