Wearing helmets and wielding batons, New York police evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from a park early on Tuesday, two months after they set up camp and sparked a national movement against economic inequality.
Hundreds of police dismantled the sea of tents, tarps, outdoor furniture, mattresses and protests signs at Zuccotti Park, arresting 147 people, including about a dozen who had chained themselves to each other and to trees.
As confused and angry protesters tried to work out how to regroup, sanitation workers laboured through the night to clear away mounds of trash from the privately owned park where hundreds of people had camped.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the park owners, commercial real estate corporation Brookfield Office Properties, had decided that the protesters had become a health and fire safety hazard to themselves and the local community.
Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments, Bloomberg said in a statement, adding that the situation had become intolerable.
The stench of urine and excrement had at times wafted across parts of the park, where flower beds had been trampled. Authorities and protesters said there had been reports of sexual assaults, thefts and drug dealing.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began when protesters set up camp in Zuccotti Park on September 17, inspired solidarity rallies and so-called occupations in public spaces across the United States and in cities elsewhere in the world.
In London, authorities said they were resuming legal action to try to shift anti-capitalism protesters who have set up camp at St Paul's Cathedral. Toronto officials also told protesters to leave on Tuesday.
The New York eviction followed similar actions in Atlanta, Portland and Salt Lake City. Unlike in Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, New York police said most protesters left peacefully.
The clearing of the park came before plans by protesters to try to shut down Wall Street on Thursday -- home to the New York Stock Exchange -- by holding a street carnival to mark the two-month anniversary of their campaign.
As long as the protesters at Zuccotti Park were lawful, New York City authorities had been unable to take any action until Brookfield officially complained. The company wrote a letter to Bloomberg on Monday requesting that the park be cleared.
Conditions in Zuccotti Park had become dangerous, unhealthy and unsafe, Brookfield said on Tuesday.
Several hundred evicted protesters regrouped after the eviction at a nearby square and proceeded to march through lower Manhattan streets before rallying in another park, where a handful of protesters were arrested.
Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) was a metaphor and this is way bigger than that, said Kyle Depew, 26, a waiter from Brooklyn. The seed's been planted in everyone's mind and that's what this is about.
The New York park had been due to reopen on Tuesday morning and the protesters were to be allowed to return as long as they stuck to new park rules that included a ban on sleeping bags, tents and the storage of belongings in the space.
But a New York judge issued a temporary restraining order on the new park rules early on Tuesday. Authorities could not enforce the rules until a hearing on the matter later in the day.
As a result, Bloomberg said the park would remain closed until the court order was clarified. A couple of hundred protesters mingled around the closed park, chanting This is contempt of court, but made no attempt to enter.
Protesters say they are upset that the billions of dollars in bank bailouts doled out during the U.S. recession allowed banks to resume earning huge profits -- and executives getting multimillion-dollar bonuses -- while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share in taxes.
They have a message and people around the world are responding, said Mike Szumski, 54, who works at a Wall Street bank he declined to name, hoped they would return.
Protesters said the eviction would not end the movement.
After this we get bigger. There is no question we get bigger. This is our chance to be heard, added Jennifer Sarja, 38, who had been bringing blankets and food to protesters.
Police had barricaded streets around Zuccotti Park, which had been lit up with spotlights. The eviction began at around 1 a.m. (0600 GMT) and the last protesters were removed by about 4:15 a.m. (0915 GMT)
I'm glad they cleared the park, said Patrick Hickey, 45, who works in construction at the nearby World Trade Centre site. I think the point they were trying to make was made a long time ago and it got lost along the way.
(Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin, Chris Francescani and Basil Katz; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Will Dunham, editing by Philip Barbara and Doina Chiacu)