Hundreds of police officers, some in riot gear, descended on Zuccotti Park after midnight Tuesday in a surprise sweep of the Occupy Wall Street headquarters.
It comes just two days ahead of a massive planned demonstration Thursday marking the movement’s two-month anniversary.
Police handed out letters to protesters ordering them to temporarily evacuate the park, and campers were ordered to remove all their tents. Police claimed it was a health issue, and that the park needed to be inspected.
Protesters were told they will be allowed to return to the park in several hours, but without their property, which will be brought to a sanitation garage.
The Mayor’s Office tweeted in the 1 a.m. hour, “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the Park is cleared.”
Some protesters have left but a large number have stayed behind. They chanted at police, “Whose park, our park.”
Police began moving closer to the remaining protesters who refused to leave the park, and dismantled tents, throwing them on to a pile with other debris.
A recorded announcement continues to play on loop, telling protesters they must temporarily vacate the park.
Sanitation worker have moved in to remove items from the park and place them on the sidewalk.
Police commissioner Ray Kelly was on the scene monitoring developments.
At least 40 arrests have been made so far. Some of the protesters who left the park formed crowds in streets around the park: at Broadway and Fulton, a crowd of 75 protesters formed.
Mayor Bloomberg last month tried to evacuate the park so that it could be cleaned. But the cleanup was ultimately postponed when protesters resisted, raising concerns about a showdown between police and the thousand-plus demonstrators camped out at the park.
The mandatory evacuation Tuesday comes just two days before a citywide demonstration planned for Nov. 17. Demonstrators were planning to march in front of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning, get on subway trains across all five boroughs in the afternoon, then rally near City Hall in the evening. Afterward, they were expected to march to area bridges.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the Stock Exchange will open on time and people will be able to get to work.
Bloomberg has recently gone back and forth between criticizing Occupy Wall Street and defending it, saying recently that protesters were largely law-abiding and did not bother anyone.
When he was asked Monday to address complaints of local business owners and residents about the Occupy encampment, Bloomberg, as he has been for the past few weeks, hedged on whether he planned to step in.
“We’ll take appropriate action when it’s appropriate,” he said.
Update 8:45 AM
A judge granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city from enforcing rules of the plaza — like a ban on tents and tarps — that she said were published “after the occupation began.” Bloomberg said at a City Hall briefing that the city had planned to let people back into the park at 8 a.m. but decided to keep it closed while officials evaluated the order.
Both sides are due in court at 11:30 AM
Update 11:04 AM
Occupy Wall Street marcher Michael Glazer called New York Police to report that his Torah was destroyed when protesters were ordered to temporarily leave Zuccotti Park for cleaning.