Hours after baton-wielding cops cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters and their tents out of Zuccotti Park, a judge signed an order Tuesday saying the demonstrators can return with their stuff.
Mayor Bloomberg said the city was trying to clarify the restraining order signed by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings, a former civil liberties lawyer.
In the meantime, Zuccotti — which briefly reopened after a scrub-down — would be closed to the public, Bloomberg said.
Occupy Wall Street protesters had already moved to another public space, Duarte Square, at Canal St. and Sixth Ave., though it was unclear if they planned to set up camp there.
As a band of about 600 streamed in, cops ringed the plaza, but were pushed back by protesters.
One demonstrator got in the face of NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, shouting: "You have clearly lost this struggle. We're asking you nicely, why don't you leave us alone?"
The overnight raid — which led to the arrest of 100 people, including Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez — had left Zuccotti empty by 7 a.m.
The only people inside were employees of property owner Brookfield Properties, which had asked for the city crackdown.
About 50 people were let back in at 8:10 a.m. before the NYPD closed the park again until the fast-developing legal issues were sorted out.
“Whose park? Our park!” protesters chanted. “They stole our freaking tents from the 99%!”
“That was my home,” said Shane Stoops, 23, an occupier from Seattle who said he had been at Zuccotti since the dawn of the protest Sept. 17.
“You see all those garbage trucks? That’s where I live now. They took my life, all my clothes, my four-man tent and mattress, all of my books and three years of drawings.”
Bloomberg said it was his call to move in on the protesters, after reports of lawlessness and the injury of an EMS worker trying to assist a mentally ill man.
“The final decision to act was mine, and mine alone," he said at a press conference. “Inaction was not an option.”
He said the city planned all along to let the anti-greed movement return to Zuccotti as soon as it was cleaned — but without the trappings of the tent city.
But in a case of one-upsmanship, lawyers for Occupy Wall Street got a judge to sign an order at 6:30 a.m. that explicitly said they should be allowed in the park with “tents and other property.”
A hearing was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. It appeared that Billings would not be the judge for that proceeding and that a new one would be randomly chosen about 10:30 a.m.
Officials said if the city and Brookfield prevail in court, security would stop anyone from entering the park with tents or tarps.
The operation to dismantle the encampment began around 1 a.m. when a horde of cops surrounded the park and used a bullhorn to notify protesters that sanitation trucks would be clearing out the site.
“If you fail to immediately leave the park, you will be subject to arrest," they said.
The protesters were defiant at first, chanting: "Whose park? Our park! No retreat. No surrender!"
"When the cops closed in, people tried to hold on to one another. Cops pulled people out, but we went back in," said Jose Mediaville, 29, a former Marine from Brooklyn. "A white shirt got frustrated. He yelled, 'Come on, let's do this.'
"I tried to avoid them, but they got me. They smashed people in the hands and broke the human chain. They lifted me up and threw me out like a rag doll," he said.
Police began tearing up the tents after throwing reporters out of the park and corralling the protesters in the center.
"Everybody stay calm, the police want you to become violent," protesters shouted. "Do not become violent. Pass the message."
One protester, 32, who gave his name as Daryl W, called his mother. "We're about to be raided I just thought I'd let you know I love you bye," he said.
Some protesters sang the Beatles song "Revolution." Helicopters flew noisily overhead.
"I have not broken the law tonight," yelled Eamon O'Rourke as cops stuffed him into a squad car.
Occupy Wall Street sent out a message on Twitter that said cops were using pepper spray.
"They took oaths to protect and serve," Jason Lee, 36 of Brooklyn, said. "They broke that oath tonight. They destroyed what we built. That's tyranny by any definition."
Paul Kostora, head of the medical tent, said he was working with a patient when police pulled him away.
"They pulled me out stethoscope, white coat and all as I was telling them I have a patient in there," he said. "One girl has a heart condition and wasn't feeling well. They manhandled her and threw her on the ground."
By 3:30 a.m., cops had cleared the kitchen area of the park, where protesters had formed a human chain, cuffed those arrested with plastic ties and loaded them in vans.
A few hours later, iron worker Mike Dalton, 40, reporting to work at the Freedom Tower, marveled at the transformation.
“It’s nice to see the floor of the park again. Protesting is one thing but it turned into squatting,” said the Mineola, L.I., hardhat.
The Tuesday morning showdown came after protesters had vowed to "shut down Wall St." on Thursday to mark two months of occupation.
"It's still on. It'll be bigger than ever. People are mobilizing now. They're wounded now and preparing for comeback," said Matt Baldwin.
With Tina Moore, Christina Boyle, Rich Schapiro and Barbara Ross