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Okla. City Officials Give Deadline to Occupy Group (Nov 29, 2011)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Protesters with the Occupy OKC movement will be given until 11 p.m. Thursday before they are forced to leave a downtown Oklahoma City park, city officials said Tuesday.

Protest organizers and city officials reached an agreement with the protesters to give them time to seek a temporary injunction in federal court, Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry said.

"In an effort to try and work with them and give them an opportunity to take that legal option, we will give them until 11 o'clock Thursday night before any action is taken by police," said Berry, a former Oklahoma City police chief. "We won't do anything before then unless things get out of hand at the camp."

Beth Isbell, a spokeswoman for Occupy OKC, said protest organizers are working with several attorneys to seek a temporary injunction, but a petition has not yet been filed.

"I would expect the temporary restraining order would be issued until a judge can conduct a hearing on the matter," Isbell said.

Occupy OKC protesters have been staying at the park since early October, with several people spending the night in tents erected there. Both city officials and protest organizers said the relationship between the two sides has been cooperative, but patience appears to be wearing thin among some city officials.

Police say an alcohol-fueled altercation broke out at the encampment over the weekend, leaving food and garbage strewn about the park, and a protester was found dead inside his tent last month. The state medical examiner's office still has not determined the cause and manner of death for 18-year-old Louis Rodriguez.

"We're caught in a difficult position of having to protect their right to free speech and our responsibility to protect them from themselves," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told The Associated Press. "We cannot allow permanent encampments in our city park, and so we're trying to work with them."

Berry said demolition work also is scheduled to begin on a parking garage adjacent to the park as part of Sandridge Energy's expansion that could make it unsafe for protesters to remain in the park.

Cornett and Berry said after Thursday protesters will be allowed to remain in the park from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. but will not be allowed to camp overnight.

Isbell said that is not acceptable to the protesters.

"The point of our continuous protest is to put pressure on the government to do the right thing," said Isbell, who also is an attorney. "The First Amendment doesn't just exist between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m."

"I think we're entitled to maintain a continuous protest, and these types of tent cities have been recognized in some cases as a form of political protest."

Isbell said the city refused to accept the group's payment on Monday for a permit to remain in the park, and that some members are willing to be arrested for remaining in the camp after an 11 p.m. curfew.

"Some will voluntarily exit the park. Others will line up to receive a citation indicating their protest," Isbell said.

"Others that choose to will remain in the park but will be instructed to comply with the instructions of police officials so there's no confrontation in the arrest process."

Berry did not say when the protesters would be forced to evacuate the park, but that he hoped the removal would be peaceful.

"We don't relish the thought of having to go in and forcefully remove anyone from the park," Berry said. "But at some point if they don't move, we will have to remove them. We will use whatever means necessary to accomplish that. We hope it's peaceful, but that will be up to them."



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