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Bad neighbors for Team USA? Occupy protesters face eviction from park near training base

Alastair Jamieson / msnbc.com

Jim L., left, and other members of the Occupy Mile End protest group at their camp in east London on Thursday.

LONDON -- An eviction notice has been served on dozens of Occupy protesters who have set up camp in a park next to Team USA's Olympic track and field training base.

About 50 demonstrators are occupying Mile End Park – two miles from the main London 2012 site and next door to a sports stadium where American athletes will prepare for events in July.

The park is also visible from the priority traffic lanes that will be used to whisk VIPs and other participants from central London to the Olympic Village, which is located to the east of the U.K. capital.

The protesters say they are part of the anti-capitalist Occupy movement, which has seen sit-ins and clashes with police in cities including New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Oakland.

An Occupy London camp was forcibly removed from the grounds of St Paul's Cathedral by police at the end of February, resulting in 20 arrests.

Local authorities have now secured a court order to close down Occupy Mile End, which began five weeks ago and includes about a dozen tents, a campfire and makeshift toilet facilities.

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Tower Hamlets Borough Council applied for the order following complaints from local residents. The manager of a nearby nature reserve also accused camp members of damaging important trees by taking branches for firewood, according to a report in the East London Advertiser newspaper.

One of the protesters, who gave his name as Jim L., told msnbc.com the group had agreed to leave the site voluntarily on Sunday.

"This is one of Britain's poorest boroughs and we don't want to take council resources away from things like schools and hospitals so we have agreed to vacate the site without costing the council a penny," he said.

Mark Taylor, spokesman for the Mile End Residents' Association, said locals were "looking forward" to a "constructive and companionable relationship with Team USA."

He said: "We are very pleased that the council has secured a possession order to reclaim the park for its intended purpose. It's very sad that trees had to be pulled down for firewood and children's activities disrupted before the council acted."


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Council officials insisted that nobody from the United States Olympic Committee, Team USA or the London 2012 organizers had expressed concern about the Occupy protest on their doorstep.

A spokesman for the council told msnbc.com: "The USA track and field team will be training at Mile End Stadium during the Olympic Games. They have funded extensive improvements to the stadium, and will be providing a variety of community benefits including free coaching sessions and opportunities to watch the team training.

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"We are working with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) on security issues, understandably these issues are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate that these will impact on the local community."

The council said it would go to the High Court to have the protesters moved if they did not leave the site, which is owned by a private trust on behalf of the council for use as a public park.

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Jim L. said the Occupy camp would move to a new, unidentified, site on Sunday. He added that there was little chance of protests targeting the Olympic Games.

"It would be impossible because of the security, in my own view," he said. "We're not against the Olympics as everybody likes a bit of sport, but I believe it is just one big advertising event for the benefit of corporate sponsors."

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He said the camp location had been chosen to highlight the issue of poverty in Tower Hamlets and not because of the proximity to Team USA's stadium.

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"There are huge problems here -- lack of affordable housing, unemployment and poverty," he said. "This is not so much a protest as a process, which is why we've come here – to listen to people and gather support. There isn’t much point in trying to occupy private land in order to disrupt the institutions of capitalism.”

American competitors at the Games will have several bases across London for different sports. Other sites include the University of East London campuses in Docklands and Stratford.

Langdon School, in the nearby Poplar area, will be home to the Canadian Olympic team.

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