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Colorado Governor Tells Protesters to Leave Park

Outside the state capitol, the standoff between anti-Wall Street protesters and Colorado authorities has taken yet another turn.  Governor John Hickenlooper said Thursday the Occupy Denver protesters cannot continue camping in the state-owned park overnight. But it’s still unclear whether authorities will start forcefully removing protesters as early as tonight.Facing growing pressure from many Republicans and some in his own party, Governor Hickenlooper sent this message to Occupy Denver protesters.

"They can’t continue to stay there overnight, the public health issues, public safety issues continue to grow," Hickenlooper said at a capitol news conference.

The tent city has grown from just a few people a week ago to more than fifty tents currently and at times a couple hundred people on hand demonstrating.

The governor toured the camp and met with protesters for about a half hour before speaking to reporters.  He said he’s sensitive to some of their concerns but worried that allowing camping to continue would set a bad precedent for other people wanting to use the park and peacefully assemble. 

Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who also spoke at the news conference, was more blunt.

"They have no argument that if we take enforcement action that this is somehow a repression of First Amendment rights," Suthers said.

Suthers said they have the “absolute right” to make the statements they want during appropriate hours.  It’s just that Colorado law bars them from camping overnight between 11 PM and 5 AM and burning open fires. 

Suthers said authorities are currently examining their options.  But he wouldn’t say whether arrests would start tonight.

For now the two sides seem to be waiting for the other to blink.

The tent city across the street was its usual scene this afternoon with people holding up anti-Wall Street signs to passing drivers and handing out liberal political fliers.  People wearing buttons that say the 'one percent' are protesting everything from corporate greed to US military policy. There’s even a kitchen where local homeless people have started to rely on a daily meal from the camp.

Wiley Sharer, one of the organizers, said protesters are trying to meet the Governor halfway, by asking for a waiver from state law.

"But he doesn’t seem to be willing to work with us on that," Sharer said. "He just wants us gone."

Sharer works as a graphic designer and used to be active with the liberal group Move On.  She says the media stopped covering protests on the left, and so the only way to get the cameras here is to violate state law.

"Everyone is very committed to not getting into a confrontation with the cops," Sharer said. "We are simply planning to stay."

Sharer and others said they plan to sit down and be arrested if authorities try to take down the tents Thursday night.

If that doesn’t happen by then, another stand-off could be looming by the weekend when a US Naval Reserves group that secured a permit has a long-planned event scheduled at the park.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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