WASHINGTON, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Occupy protesters in
the U.S. capital may be removed after Washington's mayor said on
Thursday their camp in a downtown park poses health concerns to
the city and cited a rat infestation.
Mayor Vincent Gray sent a letter to the National Park
Service, which oversees the McPherson Square park that has
become home to "Occupy DC" - a group of more than 100 protesters
camping out in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement,
a loose network of Occupy encampments across the country.
Citing a health inspection conducted by a city official that
found rats in tents and within the area where food is prepared
for the group, Gray said "conditions at McPherson Square are
particularly a threat to the health and safety of both
protestors and District residents."
Gray called on the National Park Service to take immediate
steps and said protesters should be moved to a nearby plaza
where another group of protesters has been camping out.
"At a minimum the Occupy DC sites at McPherson Square and
Freedom Plaza must be consolidated at Freedom Plaza to allow for
elimination of the rat infestation, clean up, and restoration of
McPherson Square," Gray wrote. Both sites are only a few blocks
from the White House.
The removal of the protesters could be a blow to the
national movement. Police have cleared camps in New York; Los
Angeles; Oakland, California; and other major cities. Cold
weather and internal dissent have contributed to faltering
morale in some camps.
Occupy DC has enjoyed a relatively cooperative relationship
with the police and is one of the few groups that has not been
Washington protesters say they are not concerned yet, partly
because a court order they have won requires the police to give
the camp 24 hours' notice before an eviction.
"I'm personally not that worried right now. So far, (the
park police) haven't seemed like they're looking forward to
trying to evict us," said Ricky Lehner, a 23-year-old from
Florida who has been at the camp since October.
"All I'm going to say is if they gave us 24 hours notice it
would give us time to prepare."
(Reporting By Lily Kuo; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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