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As Warm Weather Returns To MN, Occupy Activists Heat Up

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Before Occupy Minneapolis protesters marched into City Hall and up to the mayor's office this week, they stood waving signs in the street. Familiar ones— "We are the 99 percent!" bobbed among newer ones demanding the city "Stop Attacks on Occupy!"

The new signs referred to arrests of a dozen Occupy activists on Saturday on charges of public nuisance and obstructing traffic. The activists say police treated them brutally and the arrests were unwarranted. But the incident has remobilized the group, leading to a public meeting with Mayor R.T. Rybak and bringing them closer to a top goal as the weather warms: being seen.

Occupy Minneapolis organizer Ben Egerman said Tuesday the organization had rallied regularly and fought home foreclosures over the winter. But now, he says, "We're going to be a lot more visible and a lot more public."

Sam Richards, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and an Occupy organizer, was among those arrested Saturday night. He said the group's message will continue to be equality, but its focus will likely narrow.

"We're still fighting income inequality, social injustice," Richards said. "But we're also focusing on more local things: Ordinances that need to go, foreclosure defense ... and just community building."

Organizer Nick Espinosa of Minneapolis said 50 families have contacted the group after they pressured banks to renegotiate with several homeowners. The campaign will continue growing, he said.

"We have a family in Bloomington, one in Coon Rapids, so it's really expanding beyond the inner city here," Espinosa said. "It's one of the ways we can make this movement relevant to the communities that are hardest hit by the crisis."

Richards said he'll work to repeal what he calls an "anti-homeless" city ordinance that prohibits temporary housing such as tents or mobile homes within city limits.

"It's mostly saying that homeless people can't even sleep in a box," Richards said. The ordinance also prevents Occupy activists from reestablishing a base camp, one of its most pressing priorities, Richards said.

An attempted occupation of downtown's Peavey Plaza led to Saturday's arrests. Activists considered Loring Park, also near downtown, as a central gathering place but it closes from midnight to 6 a.m. Some activists say they're reluctant to return to Hennepin County Government Plaza, site of last fall's demonstrations, because of restrictions put in place there.

Police Chief Timothy Dolan said the group could apply for a permit to use Loring Park, but it would require provisions for bathroom facilities and cleaning.

Dolan said his department was ready to ramp up police presence downtown if needed.

"We know we have to probably expect almost daily events of some sort or another," he said.

Rybak said at the Tuesday meeting that he's been clear with Occupy about the "no camping" ordinance, and that the city must juggle the group's interests with the public's.

"I always think it's important to have an ongoing dialogue with Occupy," Rybak said. "We have a responsibility to balance people's rights of expression with the rights of people to drive on the street."

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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