Eviction deadline passes for Occupy Boston

Occupy Boston protestors and Boston Police officers wait in the middle of Atlantic Avenue in Boston, early Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said Thursday that Occupy Boston protesters must leave their encampment in the city's financial district by midnight Thursday or face eviction by police. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

BOSTON - A diminished Occupy Boston encampment held its ground early Friday after police decided not to immediately enforce a midnight deadline Mayor Thomas Menino had set for them to leave a city square.

Two protesters were arrested after police said they moved a tent into a street and refused to move, blocking traffic. But there were no other serious confrontations between the demonstrators and supporters who gathered at the site as the deadline loomed.

Boston police Supt. William Evans told protesters that even though Menino set the deadline, he did not specify when the camp would be shut down.

"We're continuing to work with (the protesters)... and hopefully come to a good conclusion where we don't have any confrontations and there are no arrests," Evans told reporters.

Many protesters had pulled up stakes and left the encampment Thursday after learning of the deadline, but others stayed, and some said they were prepared to be arrested.

Demonstrators and their supporters began gathering in the hours before the deadline. Occupy groups from Worcester and Providence, R.I., helped swell the ranks, along with university students, a group of Quakers and some veterans, including a Marine in full dress uniform.

About 1,000 people filled the streets around the financial district and a party-like atmosphere reigned as a marching band played music and people sang and danced.

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As midnight approached, Occupy Boston members began organizing those demonstrators willing to be arrested, telling them to stay in the encampment and link arms.

After protesters chanted "We are the 99 percent" and singing "Solidarity Forever" for several minutes, the band began playing again for the crowd.

Hours later, as dawn approached, the scene was markedly quieter, with only a handful of police officers keeping eye on the remaining protesters, a few of whom were still packing up tents and gathering belongings. One protester was raking a portion of the greenway that had been vacated by other members of the movement.

While Menino had previously said the city had no plans to forcibly remove the encampment, he appeared to become increasingly impatient with the protesters in recent days, saying the occupation has become a public health and safety hazard. He issued his ultimatum after a judge ruled on Wednesday that the protesters had no right to stay in Dewey Square.

The protesters have been encamped there since Sept. 30, modeling their demonstration after Occupy Wall Street. Protesters estimate between 100 and 150 activists live in the Boston encampment.

The threat of forcible removal left Boston poised to join several other cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, where officials moved to oust protesters.

"I think that the mayor used silence as a tactic to win the court case. He never said anything and during radio interviews he said `I'm not saying they have to go, I'm just saying that we want the ability to ask them to go,"' said John Ford, a 30-year-old bookstore owner from Plymouth and a member of the encampment. "Now they want to flip us immediately."

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