The park's owner, Brookfield Properties, postponed the scheduled cleaning and withdrew its request for police assistance in clearing out the protesters, ending for the time being a possible standoff between police and the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been camping at the site for a month.
Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway made the announcement in a statement Friday morning.
"Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park - Brookfield Properties - that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation," the statement read. "Our position has been consistent throughout: the City's role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation."
The protesters had said the planned cleanup at 7 a.m. was merely a pretext to evict them. Their protest over wealth distribution has inspired similar demonstrations across the globe.
Supporters streamed into the plaza early Friday before the announcement. There was a strong police presence, and a showdown between protesters and authorities had been feared.
Afterwards, the arrests occurred when a few hundred protesters left Zuccotti Park and marched to the area around the New York Stock Exchange. There are barricades and mounted police around the exchange, and the confrontations happened in the surrounding blocks as the protesters milled around aimlessly.
A police scooter accidentally hit a protester. He fell to the ground and screamed before kicking the scooter over to free his foot. He was then arrested.
Back at the park, the crowd was down to a few hundred.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says Brookfield Properties could still go ahead with an official cleanup if no compromise is reached with protesters.
He says the property owner hopes to work out an agreement.
"If they want to take a couple of days...then they can do that," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg also says Brookfield has received "lots of calls" from elected officials siding with protesters.
The mayor said his own staff was under strict orders not to pressure Brookfield one way or the other. Bloomberg also remarked that the park was not designed as a place to sleep.
Brookfield Properties had said the park has become trashed and unsanitary. Protesters could be seen overnight scrubbing the sidewalks and trying to clean up all the trash themselves.
Dozens of brooms were handed out about midnight and people put on yellow or white ponchos and started to sweep water from the plaza.
The demand that protesters clear out set up a turning point in a movement that began Sept. 17 with a small group of activists and has swelled to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life. Their demands are amorphous but they are united in blaming Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown.
Over the past month, the protest against corporate greed and economic inequality has spread to cities across the U.S. and around the world. Several demonstrations are planned this weekend in the U.S., Canada and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa.
In Denver, police in riot gear herded hundreds of protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol early Friday, arresting about two dozen people and dismantling their encampment. In Trenton, N.J., protesters were ordered to remove tents near a war memorial.
San Diego police used pepper spray to break up a human chain formed around a tent by anti-Wall Street demonstrators.
In Philadelphia, protester Matt Monk, a freelance writer, was cheered by the news out of New York.
"That means at the very least, the powers-that-be, wherever they are, know that they have to contend with us in a less heavy-handed way," he said.
(Some information from the Associated Press)