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OccupyMN tents removed from Minneapolis protest site

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Tent rally
Supporters of the OccupyMN movement rallied and set up tents on the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. They were protesting the county's ban on tents and sleeping on the plaza.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Hennepin County authorities moved in on anti-Wall Street protesters early Thursday morning to enforce the no-camping rule on the Hennepin County Government Center.

OccupyMN protesters were defying the ban and were camping out on the plaza in downtown Minneapolis.

Protester Sam Richards said that authorities arrived at about 4 a.m. and started clearing the area.

"Basically, they came in, didn't make any arrests like usual. They just forced their way in and took our tents, even while we were complying with taking a bunch of them off the government plaza and moving them to a different spot," he said. "They ripped them out of our hands, basically came in, took everything and sealed them in a little warehouse at the bottom of the government plaza."

Demonstrators had put up about 30 tents on the southwest corner of the plaza, and vowed to spend the night in defiance of a county rule against structures on the property. Last week a federal judge upheld that rule.

County spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan said Wednesday night that deputies would do what it takes to enforce the rules.

On Wednesday night, Minneapolis resident Sarah Martin put up a newly purchased children's tent.  She said she wasn't intimidated by the sheriff's deputies who were video recording the scene.

"This is a public space.  It's a people's plaza, it's a county plaza," Martin said. "First Amendment is the ability to dissent and speak out and this is one way to do it."

But On Thursday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said the protesters knew what was coming.

"Our goal here was not to make any arrests, so we gave the demonstrators notice several times that the tents were not allowed on government center property," he said. "After that, security did physically did remove the tents, and they're being held for safekeeping until they can be returned to their rightful owners."

"You know, I think these folks took this matter to the courts, the courts ruled on a temporary restraining order, saying that the use of tents was not a use of free speech or first amendment rights," Stanek added. "We're simply upholding that, as we have since day one. Its a shame that they continue to defy both the rules put in place by the county board of comissioners, as well as the federal judge."

Stanek said that the county has spent about $300,000 on security and oversight since the protests started the first week of October.

After some of the demonstrators moved across the street and set up tents in front of Minneapolis City Hall early Thursday, two protesters were arrested. 

Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said that one man resisted police efforts to clear tents from city property, hours after other tents were removed. Another demonstrator was arrested when he approached officers as they were taking tents away from the scene.

"We've had an excellent dialogue with Occupy Minnesota. We meet with them almost daily," Palmer said. "The city and the police department wholeheartedly respect their right to exercise free speech, and we will continue to do so. But there are limits within the law that free speech doesn't extend to."