Officials delay moves to evict St. Paul's camp

By Robert Barr

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 1 2011 10:50 a.m. MDT

A tent bearing a banner is seen outside St Paul's Cathedral in London, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. It has been announced Tuesday that St Paul's Cathedral is to suspend its legal action against the Occupy London Protestors who are camped around the church.

Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated Press

LONDON — Authorities in London on Tuesday suspended legal action to evict anti-capitalist protesters camped outside St. Paul's Cathedral, after church officials gave the tent city a reprieve

Officials had been due to hand the protesters a letter asking them to remove their tents within 48 hours, or face a court battle. But the City of London Corporation said legal action was being "paused overnight" so that officials can meet for more talks.

The corporation's policy chairman, Stuart Fraser, said the body was pausing to "give time for reflection."

"We're hoping to use a pause — probably of days not weeks — to work out a measured solution," he said.

The cathedral's governing body earlier said it had unanimously agreed not to join in legal action against the Occupy London camp after consultations with the bishop of London, Richard Chartres — reversing a Friday announcement that such a move had "regrettably become necessary."

The two-week standoff over the scores of tents set up outside the iconic cathedral has been an embarrassment for the church, but an attention-getting bonanza for protesters, who are inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement.

Canon Michael Colclough said the cathedral was now committed "to engage constructively with the protest and the serious issues that have been raised, without the threat of legal action hanging over us."

Protesters had aimed to stage their occupation outside the London Stock Exchange beginning Oct. 15, but were evicted from private property and moved on to the nearby cathedral.

After first being hospitable to the protesters, cathedral leaders last week closed the 300-year-old church for the first time since German planes bombed the city during World War II, citing health and safety issues. The cathedral reopened on Friday after a public outcry.

Rev. Giles Fraser, who resigned as canon chancellor at St. Paul's last week to protest the possibility violent eviction, will be part of the effort to reach out to protesters, the cathedral said.

Fraser's resignation was followed on Monday by the resignation of the cathedral's dean, the Right Rev. Graham Knowles. A part-time chaplain, Fraser Dyer, also resigned last week, saying he was "embarrassed" by the decision to resort to legal action.

The Daily Telegraph headline front-page headline on Tuesday declared: "St. Paul's branded a national joke."

In a bid to regain control of the situation, Chartres has invited a high-profile banker, Ken Costa, to lead an initiative aimed at "reconnecting the financial with the ethical." Costa, a 62-year-old South African, is a former chairman of UBS Europe and of Lazard International.

The cathedral statement made it clear that Chartres had taken command, though Anglican cathedrals traditionally enjoy a wide degree of independence from their bishops.

"The resignation of the dean," the statement said, "has given the opportunity to reassess the situation, involving fresh input from the bishop."

"The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St. Paul's has now heard that call," Chartres said.

"Today's decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe," he said.

The cathedral's latest move puts it at odds with civil authorities including the Corporation of London, which governs the City of London financial district.

Home Secretary Theresa May said earlier Tuesday that she hoped "that the St. Paul's authorities, the Corporation of the City of London and the police will work together to ensure the protesters can be moved as soon as possible."

Last week, the planning and transportation committee of the Corporation of London resolved to go to court to move the protest.

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Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.

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