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Deadline looms for Occupy Philly to dismantle camp

By Kathy Matheson

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 10:15 a.m. MST

PHILADELPHIA — The clock is ticking down for Occupy Philadelphia, whose members have been ordered to dismantle their City Hall camp by 5 p.m. Sunday to make way for a $50 million construction project.

Officials hope the ultimatum is met with the same spirit of cooperation that has made for a largely peaceful movement since Occupy members first set up tents on Dilworth Plaza nearly two months ago. But as of Sunday morning, dozens of tents still remained.

Some demonstrators have already agreed to leave and continue their activities across the street under strict conditions that forbid camping. But internal strife within the protest made it unclear whether the rest of the tents and personal belongings would be removed on time.

It's also unclear how the city will react if the deadline is not met.

"I'm not going to try to predict what's going to happen on Sunday at 5 p.m.," Mayor Michael Nutter said Friday in giving protesters 48 hours' notice to vacate the property.

The Philadelphia movement, aligned with the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, opposes economic inequality and corporate influence on government. Despite about four dozen arrests, there have been no violent confrontations with police — a marked contrast to similar demonstrations in other cities across the country.

Jeremy Patten, 27, of Philadelphia, who was manning the medic tent at the camp Sunday morning, said he expected some civil disobedience at 5 p.m. He said he'd like to see Occupy members show solidarity in purpose but use many different tactics and strategies.

"People are as committed as they have been to seeing this conversation continue," Patten said.

On Friday, Nutter expressed support for the movement's ideals but said protesters must make room for the long-planned project, which they were told of when they set up camp Oct. 6.

Members of the governing body of Occupy Philadelphia, the General Assembly, approved a move to a plaza across the street after union officials stressed the hundreds of jobs being created by the Dilworth reconstruction. But that vote mistakenly assumed protesters would be able to pitch tents there.

Continuing the 24-7 camping is not an option "because of the clear, adverse impact on public health and safety and other reasons," Nutter said.

Graffiti, lack of sanitation and fire hazards, including smoking in tents, were among the city's chief concerns at Dilworth, which had about 350 tents at the height of the movement. The encampment also attracted significant numbers of homeless, although the plaza had long been frequented by that population even before the camp sprang up.

The city did issue a permit to an Occupy Philadelphia faction called Reasonable Solutions that plans to continue demonstrating across the street beginning Monday. However, activities are limited to between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and no overnight camping is allowed.

"They understand that the conditions on Dilworth Plaza can't be replicated somewhere else and they are aware of the growing fiscal impact this movement has had on city taxpayers," Nutter said.

About a month into the protest, city officials estimated police and sanitation costs at more than $500,000.

Kathy Matheson can be reached at www.twitter.com/kmatheson

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