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Agreement reached in Cincinnati Occupy disputes

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CINCINNATI — The city dismissed hundreds of charges against Occupy protesters on Monday in return for them dropping their federal lawsuit against it.

More than a dozen Occupy Cincinnati members gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce the settlement, which also establishes a 24-hour public space in Piatt Park. Protesters were cited at the park and two other locations last year on charges of trespassing and failure to leave after closing hours. Members of Occupy Cincinnati filed a lawsuit claiming that the city had violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly and asking that the city be prevented from enforcing the rules.

The protesters, who are part of a movement that started about six months ago on Wall Street against what demonstrators have said is economic inequality, cheered the settlement.

Occupy member Aaron Roco called it a "victory for our constitutional rights and for the people of Cincinnati." But he said the goal of the group "has been and will continue to be ending corporate control of our government."

City Solicitor John Curp said the case allowed both sides to clarify and understand the limits to First Amendment expression in Cincinnati's parks.

"What we have clarified is that individuals and groups are allowed to gather and speak to others in our parks but that there are limits," Curp said.

Those limits include tents or other types of encampments in the area, Curp said.

Roco said that prohibition "was a concession on our part, but we feel on the whole that this was a major victory."

Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman for City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city "has always been concerned about safety, security and ensuring the enjoyment of visitors to the park, and we are pleased that this matter has been settled."

City officials had said that the Occupy encampments caused health and safety concerns and that the noise disturbed other people in the area.

The charges had been filed in Hamilton Municipal Court, with the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

An attorney for the group, Jennifer Kinsley, said that about 300 charges involving approximately 100 protesters were dismissed Monday.

Most major Occupy encampments have been dispersed around the country over the past several months, but lawsuits by protesters have continued in various areas. Prosecutors in some cities, including New York, have dropped charges against some protesters.

The Cincinnati settlement, first reported Sunday night by The Cincinnati Enquirer, notes that the 24-hour space for protesters will be open for use from 10 p.m. on March 19 through 11:59 p.m. on March 18, 2013.

Roco said the idea is that permission for the 24-hour space could be renewed at the end of the first year.

"The important part is that this will be an area where people can express themselves 24 hours a day," he said.

The agreement also calls for the city to appoint someone to act as a public liaison with the group on behalf of the city's park board.