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Occupy St. Louis protesters march as deadline looms


ST. LOUIS • Occupy St. Louis protesters marched to Soldiers Memorial from their encampment at Kiener Plaza on Veterans Day, hours ahead of an apparent showdown between the activist and the city.

There, the group's march overlapped with a more official celebration of area veterans attended by U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt.

City staffers on Thursday told Occupy St. Louis protesters that they have until this afternoon to remove their tents from Kiener Plaza and comply with city law.

An Occupy St. Louis press release sent out this morning argues that protesters are exercising their First Amendment rights.

"Occupy St Louis hopes that Mayor (Francis) Slay realizes that our freedom to assemble is not limited to one space, but guaranteed to all people, in any public space, at any time," the statement says. "We believe that we are engaged in a vital attempt to restore the cornerstone of American ideals: equality, unity, and social mobility."

Eddie Roth, aide to Mayor Francis Slay and the city's new chief performance officer, said that police and city park officials would enter the park no sooner than 3 p.m. today and begin removing any structures still up.

Roth did not want to say exactly when police would move in. He said that the park curfew begins at 10 p.m.

After that point, he said, police will ask protesters to step outside the park boundaries. If they don't leave, they could be arrested.

They could, he said, remain on the sidewalks surrounding the park — but without tents.

Roth said he did not expect violence. He and other mayoral aides have been meeting with protesters over the past couple days.

The protesters have "made clear that they are not a violent movement," Roth said. "And they have no intention of engaging in or provoking violence."

The mayor has, so far, treated the protesters gingerly.

But late last week, he announced in his blog that they'd be asked to leave soon. The protesters responded early this week, vowing to stay put.

Tuesday, the mayor agreed to send staffers to meet with protesters. Nothing, however, was immediately solved.

Then, just after 2 p.m. Thursday, perhaps a dozen law enforcement officers, parks workers and city officials arrived at Kiener Plaza, said Sasha Patino, 41, from St. Louis.

They passed out fliers warning occupiers that, after 3 p.m. today, the city would "strictly enforce all ordinances and regulations regulating the use of public parks."

Protesters said they were split on what to do but were trying to agree on a course of action.

JJ Medina, 40, from St. Louis, said he planned on staying, but "would offer no violence" if police arrive. "This is still time for negotiation," he said.

Some vowed they would not leave.

"I've been practicing civil disobedience since the 6th," Patino said. "I'm perfectly happy being arrested.

"I've been waiting for almost a month now," he continued, laughing. "I'm slightly disappointed it hasn't happened."

Still, by late Thursday afternoon, a few tents had already been taken down.

Some protesters are homeless and said they didn't know where else they'd go. Shelters they had called were only accepting women with children.

Others were aiming to return to the Mississippi riverfront homeless encampments, said Roger Wilkes, 41.

"Now most that's left are homeless," Wilkes said. "What's there left to fight for? We're going down to tent city."

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