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Green light for Occupy Rochester encampment

By Ben Dobbin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 12:21 p.m. MST

Occupy Albany protesters march with Veterans for Peace in a Veterans Day parade in Albany N.Y., on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.

Mike Groll, Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A dozen tents sprung up overnight in Washington Square Park after the mayor shifted direction to allow Occupy Rochester to protest round the clock in a city park where 48 people had been charged with violating a nighttime curfew.

The trespassing arrests over the last two weeks were the first in upstate New York's major cities among supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now, protesters say, Rochester is the only city in New York to provide a legal basis for an Occupy encampment.

"Tents went up within minutes of the agreement being inked" Thursday evening with Mayor Tom Richards, said Michael Steinberg, a lawyer who is a member of Occupy Rochester.

"A 24-hour presence," Steinberg added Friday, reinforces "the real message that this protest is something of central importance to our lives, that some very substantial things about our world need to be changed."

Meantime, a potential showdown is brewing this weekend in Albany.

Some demonstrators encamped in the city's Academy Park are threatening to test Gov. Andrew Cuomo's resolve to have troopers arrest anyone violating an 11 p.m. curfew in adjacent, state-owned Lafayette Park.

The Occupy campaign sprouted in lower Manhattan in September to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality and has spread to cities around the country.

For the last three weeks, dozens of Occupy Rochester protesters have gathered daily in Washington Square, a park about the size of a city block across from Xerox Corp. tower. Near its centerpiece — a Civil War monument — hangs a "Liberation Square Rochester" banner.

The mayor, who had cited health and safety concerns in enforcing the curfew through arrests, said the peaceful nature of the protest was a key reason for allowing the park to remain open at night.

The agreement, which Steinberg called "an enforceable contract," came after city officials met with Occupy Rochester and two lawyers enlisted by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"We've been open to coming to an agreement for a while" that provided "some reasonable accommodations for them but some limits," Richards said.

Under the agreement, protesters are permitted to set up tents in one half of the park, but must keep the camp tidy and avoid obstructing other visitors or erecting barriers.

In Albany, county District Attorney P. David Soares has said repeatedly he won't prosecute "peaceful protesters" for curfew violations. But the governor has been equally adamant that curfews will be enforced on state land.

"We have said that since day one," Cuomo said.

Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed from Albany.

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