NEW YORK — Protesters expressed fears Thursday that a scheduled cleanup of the private park where they've been camped out near Wall Street is merely a ploy to unravel the demonstration.
City officials have informed protesters that they will need to leave Zuccotti Park on Friday so that it can be cleaned, but that they'll be allowed to return afterward.
As a steady drizzle fell Thursday over the park, owned by Brookfield Properties, confusion was high over when the protesters will be ordered out - and where they'll go during the evacuation.
"The cleanup is a pretext to remove us from the camp. And we can return only if we abide by the rules of Brookfield Properties," said Justin Wedes, 25, a public high school science teacher from Brooklyn who was sweeping the pavement with others. "We're redoubling our efforts today."
Brookfield did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the cleanup. City officials remained mum on logistics.
"This is the cleanest protest I've ever witnessed," said Emilio Montilla, 29, a laid-off teacher's assistant. "We take care of ourselves. We're self-sufficient."
A notice handed out to protesters Thursday from Brookfield stated that the cleaning is part of daily upkeep, and that conditions have deteriorated in recent weeks because that upkeep was put on hold by the protesters.
"They're going to use the cleanup to get us out of here!" Wedes said. "It's a de facto eviction notice."
Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement Wednesday that the protest has "created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park." He said Brookfield asked for police help to clear the park so it can be cleaned.
Holloway said the cleaning will be done in stages Friday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the protesters Wednesday to offer assurances.
Allison Esso of Human Services Council, a group that supports the protesters, was wary. "I'm hoping that they're not trying to undermine their ability to protest," she said.
The protest, known as Occupy Wall Street, has sympathetic groups in other cities which each stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake, and Occupy Seattle, among them.
The movement has also drawn reaction from world leaders, including President Barack Obama, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Walesa said Thursday that he supports the New York protest and is planning to either visit or write a letter to the protesters. He said the global economic crisis has made people aware that "we need to change the capitalist system" because we need "more justice, more people's interests, and less money for money's sake."
Khamenei said Wednesday that the wave of protests reflects a serious problem that will ultimately topple capitalism in America. He claimed the United States is in a full-blown crisis because its "corrupt foundation has been exposed to the American people."
Khamenei's remarks came a day after U.S. officials said the Obama administration plans to leverage charges that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador into a new global campaign to isolate the Islamic republic.
Protesters, who have been living, sleeping and eating in the park for the duration, say they are in it for the long haul, despite the onset of cold weather.
On Wednesday, police arrested four people outside JP Morgan Chase offices where Wall Street protesters called in vain for a meeting with Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon. Protesters accused the police of rough handling. An Associated Press photographer witnessed police officers heading into the crowd of demonstrators to make the arrests.
Meanwhile, about 700 members of the Service Employees International Union marched through the Financial District; the union, which represents 23,000 office cleaners, is gearing up for contract negotiations with the Realty Advisory Board.
More protests are planned in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend, and European activists also are organizing.
A lawyer for a woman pepper-sprayed during an action last month is demanding that the Manhattan district attorney prosecute an NYPD deputy inspector on an assault charge. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the matter was being investigated by police internal affairs and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw.