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Police evict Occupy New Orleans protesters

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Police conducted a peaceful, pre-dawn eviction of the Occupy New Orleans site on Tuesday, the latest in a string of cities around the country to clear out protesters.

Dozens of people had been staying in a public park near City Hall for two months. One person refused to leave and was arrested without incident, police said.

New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas said the city gave the group repeated notifications that an eviction would occur.

"People were clear about what was expected," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Serpas said protesters are welcome to return to Duncan Plaza to voice their opinions between the hours of 4:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., when the park is open to the public.

"Occupy New Orleans has been here since October 6, unfettered by the government," Serpas said. "Now our position is clear: The parks are closed at night."

Speaking to a WWL radio audience on Tuesday morning, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said while he has "absolutely no problem" with individuals exercising their constitutional rights, "it's our job to keep the place safe."

Landrieu said city and state laws prohibit "housing structures" being erected on public property. He and Serpas cited health hazards including broken glass and human excrement in the park.

Landrieu said the city began organizing about 200 police and emergency services workers early on Tuesday and that it took about three hours to go through the park and ask each of the protesters to leave. He said workers will spend the rest of the day cleaning up the park.

OTHER CITIES SEE EVICTIONS

In Washington, D.C., protesters who have been camped out in McPherson Square have gotten a federal court order barring U.S. Park Police from carrying out a surprise eviction, the group said on its website.

The order bars an eviction without 24-hour notice ahead of a January 31 hearing, Occupy DC said in a statement. Police arrested 31 people on Sunday when occupiers tried to put up a wooden structure in the park, and tore down the building.

On Monday, police in other cities extended moves aimed at keeping anti-Wall street protesters from camping, arresting 11 people in Orlando and San Diego after a weekend clampdown.

In Oregon, Portland police arrested 19 people at the weekend who were trying to occupy a downtown park. One man was charged with criminal mischief and trespassing for climbing onto the roof of City Hall.

About 100 Occupy protesters face possible eviction from their encampment at Seattle Central Community College, after a judge last week ruled such a displacement can go forward.

In Denver, a handful of protesters camped across from the state Capitol. Attorneys for Occupy protesters went to federal court in Denver on Monday to argue police have infringed on their free speech rights by selectively using city ordinances to restrict their activities.

In Los Angeles, where last week police arrested nearly 300 demonstrators when police cleared an Occupy camp, Good Jobs LA, a non-profit group, was calling on the city to evaluate banks that do business with the city on such issues as community investment.

Occupy San Francisco protesters were deadlocked on how to respond to an offer from Mayor Ed Lee for a new site. The group has been camped at a downtown plaza in about 100 tents.

The Occupy movement began in a Manhattan park in New York, but protesters were cleared from that site two weeks ago.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Peter Bohan)

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