NEW YORK - The owners of a New York plaza where protesters have camped out for a month decided Friday to put off cleaning it, sending up cheers from demonstrators who feared the plan was merely a pretext to evict them and said the victory emboldened their movement.
Protesters were already scrambling to scrub the park where they've been sleeping and eating for weeks when, under pressure from local officials, the owners of the park decided to call off their own cleanup.
"It's really a victory for freedom of speech and for democracy," said Liane Nikitovich, 44, a fitness instructor. "This is one moment. It shows that our support is growing worldwide."
In an emailed statement, Brookfield said Friday that it had deferred cleaning the park for a short period while it negotiates with protesters.
"At the request of a number of local political leaders, Brookfield Properties has deferred the cleaning of Zuccotti Park for a short period of time while an attempt is made to reach a resolution regarding the manner in which Zuccotti Park is being used by the protesters," the company said.
The protesters declared their decision a boon to their movement, which blames Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown. Since starting a month ago in New York, the movement has spread to cities across the U.S. and the world.
"This development has emboldened the movement and sent a clear message that the power of the people has prevailed against Wall Street," New York organizers said in a statement.
In Denver early Friday, police in riot gear herded hundreds of protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol, arresting about two dozen and dismantling their encampment. In Trenton, N.J., protesters were ordered to remove tents from their encampment near a war memorial.
New York police arrested 14 people, including protesters who obstructed traffic by standing or sitting in the street, and others who tuned over trash baskets, knocked over a police scooter and hurled bottles.
A few blocks south of the park, about two dozen demonstrators screamed "Pigs!" and hurled obscenities at a dozen officers in riot gear, who showed no visible reaction. The officers left the area, trailed by protesters with cameras.
Protesters have had some previous run-ins with police, including mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and an incident in which some protesters were pepper-sprayed.
Several protests are planned this weekend in the U.S., Canada and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa, and the official capitulation in New York could buoy those events.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is on Brookfield's board of directors, said his staff was under strict orders not to pressure the company one way or the other. He noted that the company can still go ahead with the cleanup at some point.
"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying ... `We're going to make your life more difficult,'" he said on his weekly radio show.
The company's rules, which haven't been enforced, have all along prohibited tarps, sleeping bags and storing personal property on the ground. Though the park is privately owned, it is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.
Brookfield, a publicly traded real estate firm, had planned to power-wash the New York plaza section by section over 12 hours and allow the protesters back - but without much of the equipment they needed to sleep and camp there. The company called the conditions at the park unsanitary and unsafe.
The New York Police Department had said it would make arrests if Brookfield requested it and laws were broken. But the deputy mayor's statement indicated that "for the time being" Brookfield was withdrawing its request for police assistance in cleaning the park.
A confrontation between police and protesters, who had vowed to stay put through civil disobedience, had been feared. Many protesters had said the only way they would leave was by force, and organizers sent out a mass email Thursday asking supporters to "defend the occupation from eviction."
Supporters including union members streamed into the plaza in the early morning darkness in a show of solidarity in a show several hundred strong.
Boisterous cheers floated up from the crowd as the announcement of the cleaning postponement circulated, and a small group soon marched away with brooms, saying they were going to clean up Wall Street, a few blocks away.
Some protesters scrubbed the park's marble and pavement with brooms and soapy water and picked up trash as others unfurled tarps on the rain-dampened concrete and ate potluck breakfast off paper plates. One man practiced his yoga sun salutation despite the dark clouds.
"I think it's really a prophetic moment," said Annie Gonzalez, a student at Union Theological Seminary who wore a sign identifying her as an Occupy Wall Street chaplain. She likened the protesters to "the prophets of the Old Testament, crying out that there's no justice."
The demand that protesters clear out had set up a potential turning point in a movement that began Sept. 17 with a small group of activists and has swelled to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life. Occupy Wall Street has inspired similar demonstrations across the country and become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a reference to the protests in a speech Friday at The Economic Club of New York.
"The protests happening just a few miles from here ought to be reminder to all of us that we have a great deal of work to do to live up to the expectations of the American people," she said.
Attorneys from the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild - who are representing an Occupy Wall Street sanitation working group - wrote a letter to Brookfield saying the company's request to get police to help implement its cleanup plan threatened "fundamental constitutional rights.