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Occupy Wall Street leads church to cancel Halloween party

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A historic Manhattan church has canceled its annual Halloween celebration due to an ongoing standoff with remnants of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Trinity Church, an Episcopalian congregation located where Wall Street meets Broadway, usually invites neighborhood children to watch classic silent films such as "Frankenstein" and "Dracula."

The church is breaking the tradition this year due to Occupy protesters and the homeless camping on the sidewalk outside, the latest casualty in an ongoing standoff.

After being evicted from a park near Wall Street last year, Occupy Wall Street activists sought permission to set up a camp on a vacant lot owned by the church.

Trinity had been an early ally of the movement, distributing blankets to protesters and opening its doors for the group's strategy meetings.

When the church denied the group's request, the relationship soured. Activists "took control" of the lot, protester Jack Boyle said. One activist opened a fence with bolt cutters and dozens of people poured in, resulting in arrests.

In response, a group of Occupy activists camped out in front of the church and vowed to stay until one of the men arrested was freed.

After the man was released, activists stayed and demanded the resignation of Trinity pastor James Cooper, who they said betrayed them by pressing charges.

The splinter group's makeshift encampment has attracted homeless people, some of whom are emotionally or mentally disturbed, according to police and church and community leaders.

Protesters and the homeless sleep on cardboard mats splayed on the sidewalk of a busy pedestrian intersection.

After a series of conflicts between activists and church members, protesters have promised to stay indefinitely.

At least nine protesters have been arrested for disorderly conduct since June after clashing with church maintenance workers trying to clean the sidewalk, church officials said.

On October 14, an activist wearing a tutu burst into Sunday services and began shouting that Cooper and congregants were "sinners," Trinity spokeswoman Linda Hanick said. The man fled before police arrived.

Trinity recently closed its bathrooms to the public after they were repeatedly vandalized by activists, Hanick said.

Initially, church officials worked with social service agencies to place 15 of the homeless in shelters, Hanick said. But recent arrivals to the camp "have been resistant to any engagement," she said.

Boyle and others acknowledged some of the homeless among their group are emotionally disturbed, but deny they pose any threat.

"The church is trying to spin you," activist Fathema Shadid said.

Community leaders question the validity of the demonstration.

"What we're seeing is not a socio-political protest," said community board member Ro Sheffe. "We're observing people who party all night and sleep all day on the sidewalk. What began as a protest has left a blight on our community."

The first service at the site of Trinity Church was held in 1698.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Stacey Joyce)

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