NEW: "We are very disappointed," a protester outside St. Paul's says
NEW: The cathedral reopens after a week-long closure with a special service
City of London authorities agree on legal action to remove tent city
The Occupy London activists say they intend to remain camped outside
Authorities in London agreed to take court action Friday to remove anti-capitalist protesters who have spent two weeks camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The City of London Corporation, which runs the capital’s financial district, said it had legal grounds for action because the 200 or more tents were impacting roads in the area.
Stuart Fraser, the City of London Corporation’s chairman of Policy and Resources, said: “We have no problem with a peaceable 24-hour protest by people without tents – provided the highway is fully usable – but campsites and important highways don’t mix.”
He told CNN it could take three to four months for the legal process to unfold.
A statement from St. Paul’s said it had asked the protesters to leave peacefully but that legal action “has regrettably become necessary” given their refusal to move on.
“The Chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution,” it said.
Protester Spyro Van Leemnen told CNN: “We are very disappointed to see that the church decided to take the legal route.
“The church should stand by (us). Jesus himself kicked out the moneylenders from the temple and now we see this system of Christianity collaborating with the moneylenders to evict people from their doorstep.”
He said the Occupy London group was consulting a lawyer on how to respond with its own legal action.
He urged church leaders and London Mayor Boris Johnson to join activists and people from all faiths in a debate to be held on the cathedral steps Saturday.
The cathedral, which lies in the heart of the financial district, reopened to worshipers and visitors with a special service Friday, a week after it closed its doors citing health and safety concerns over the tent city outside.
The decision to take court action comes a day after a senior cleric, Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, resigned over concerns that St. Paul’s planned to evict the Occupy London protesters, in a step which could lead to violence.
The week-long closure of one of London’s centers of worship, also a landmark tourist attraction that usually welcomes thousands of paying visitors a day, has led to much soul-searching among senior clergy there.
The Dean of St. Paul’s, the Right Rev. Graeme Knowles, said St Paul’s believed in the right to peaceful protest but had asked the protesters to move on peacefully.
It was consulting lawyers on measures it could take, including court action, he said, to resolve the situation.
Knowles said the cathedral was able to reopen after changes were made to the way the tent city, which sprang up 13 days ago, was laid out, giving better access.
“The staff team here have been working flat out with the police, fire brigade and health and safety officers to try to ensure that we have confidence in the safety of our worshipers, visitors and staff which will allow us to reopen,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
The activists, who say their aim is “to bring about real social and economic justice for every single person in society,” welcomed the announcement that the cathedral would reopen.
They launched their own newspaper, Thursday, the Occupied Times of London.
In an interview after his resignation, Fraser told the Guardian newspaper that the issue was not about his sympathies with the protesters but the possibility that violence could be used against peaceful protest.
“I cannot support using violence to ask people to clear off the land,” he told the paper. “For me I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp.”
London’s Mayor Johnson used more forceful language in an interview with London’s Evening Standard newspaper, calling for new laws to prevent tent cities “erupting like boils” across London, and telling the activists: “In the name of God and Mammon, go.”
This week’s closure was the first time in decades that St. Paul’s had shut its doors to visitors.
Designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren, the domed cathedral was built between 1675 and 1710. A church has stood on the site near the banks of the River Thames for more than 1,400 years.