Hundreds of police officers, some in riot gear, descended on Zuccotti Park overnight in a surprise sweep of the Occupy Wall Street headquarters that Mayor Bloomberg said had become an "intolerable situation."
Hours later, 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 were due in court at 11:30 a.m. See the order here.
In the overnight raid, many protesters in the two-month-old occupation left peacefully, but some refused to go, chaining themselves to trees and to each other. They chanted at police, "Whose park? Our park!"
All protesters were cleared from the park by 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. Browne said there were about 70 arrests inside the park overnight and another to 30 to 40 arrests on Broadway as protesters tried to stop the evacuation. Among those arrested was City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.
Several hundred protesters gathered in nearby Foley Square, creating a makeshift headquarters as they weighed their next move. A message on the organizers' website urged people to meet at Canal Street at 9 a.m., promising "you can't evict an idea whose time had come."
Bloomberg said at City Hall Tuesday that he and the owners of the plaza, Brookfield Properties, had become "increasingly concerned" that the occupation, which has used generators and other devices to keep warm, was beginning to pose a health and fire hazard to the demonstrators and Lower Manhattan community. There have been reports of scattered crime, and an EMT was injured responding to a call last week, he noted.
"Unfortunately, the park was becoming a place where people came not to protest, but rather to break laws, and in some cases, to harm others," Bloomberg said. "The majority of protesters have been peaceful and responsible. But an unfortunate minority has not been – and as the number of protesters has grown, this has created an intolerable situation."
He said protesters will be welcome to use the park to protest but have to follow the rules.
"Protesters have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags," he added. "Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments."
The temporary restraining order said the city could not evict protesters from the park or enforce rules -- like those prohibiting certain items in the plaza -- that were not made clear until after the occupation began.
Before moving in to sweep the park, police handed out letters to protesters ordering them to temporarily evacuate; campers were ordered to remove all their tents.
Any tents, sleeping bags or other items left behind in the park would be brought to a sanitation garage, the letter said.
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."
Even as some protesters physically locked themselves down in the park, police moved in, working around the remaining demonstrators to break down tents and toss them into piles. Sanitation crews then entered and moved the items on to the sidewalk.
A recorded announcement played on loop, telling protesters they had to temporarily vacate the park.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was on the scene monitoring developments.
Outside the park, several separate smaller groups formed to march down Broadway to try to join protesters in the park. But officers blocked the path, resulting in some pushing and shoving.
Residents in at least one nearby building were not allowed to leave to watch the events. Doormen were told by NYPD to lock up.
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 came just two days before a massive Occupy Wall Street demonstration planned for Thursday. 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.
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 again hedged on whether he planned to step in.
"We'll take appropriate action when it's appropriate," he said.
Occupy encampments have come under fire around the country as local officials and residents have complained about possible health hazards and ongoing inhabitation of parks and other public spaces.