WASHINGTONâ€””Occupy DC” protesters prepared to lead a march to the Capitol Tuesday as Congress returns from a winter break, the latest signal that the residents of a tent city here have no plans to go home.
But pressure was mounting on the Obama administration to evict the protesters from their encampment in a federal park, with the city’s mayor citing unsanitary conditions last week in a request to have the protesters moved.
Until now the National Park Service has tolerated the occupiers, allowing them to sleep in a square where federal regulations explicitly prohibit camping. The policy is coming under increased scrutiny even as the remaining protesters in the nation’s capital are gearing up for colder months ahead.
“We all here are the people that are committed for the long term,” said Edward Sahadi, 47, who left his job as a baker in south Florida to join the protest nine weeks ago and sleeps in a tent each night in McPherson Square.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray wrote the Park Service late last week expressing “concerns about the health and safety of the Occupy DC protesters” and district residents.
At the McPherson Square protest site, near K Street, Mr. Gray said city health inspectors found a “dangerous rat infestation as well as serious potential for communicable disease, hypothermia, and food-borne illness.” Mr. Gray asked that “at a minimum” that site be shifted to a second protest site, in Freedom Plaza along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The park service hasn’t responded to the city yet, but an agency spokesman said it was reviewing the request.
An attempt to evict the protesters would almost certainly be met with resistance and arrests. The White House has deferred to local authorities in New York and elsewhere as they have evicted “Occupy” camps. But unlike other cities, the federal government is managing the demonstrations because the park service oversees many D.C. park lands, leaving the decision in the hands of President Barack Obama’s administration. A top Republican lawmaker is investigating the matter and has questioned whether politics played into the decision to allow the protesters to stay.
U.S. Park Police officers inspect the camp at McPherson Square daily and said it had arrested 61 people as of Jan. 3 for charges including assault, threats and disorderly conduct.
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