More than three dozen OccupyMPLS  tents that occupied the northeast corner of the Hennepin County Government Center plaza in downtown Minneapolis Wednesday night were removed hours later by police.

The tents had been erected by the protesters in defiance of county rules and a federal judge.

As the anti-Wall Street and pro-peace protesters entered their third month of round-the-clock days on the plaza, about a dozen security guards had stood earlier on the outskirts of the group, which numbered about 150 at its largest on Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota sued the county Nov. 22 on behalf of OccupyMPLS, claiming that new rules adapted by Hennepin County banning the use of tents, electricity and signs violated the protesters' right to free speech.

The next day, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle ruled that protesters have the right to affix signs to the plaza, but he upheld the county's rules restricting their ability to use tents and chalk messages on the plaza or to sleep there overnight.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, speaker after speaker rallied the group on the plaza. State Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, told the crowd that the neighborhoods she represents, Phillips, Stevens Square and Whittier, "helped me really understand why you are here."

"I am in solidarity with you and know there are other public officials who are too," Clark said. "You can count on us. We are here. I am here, with you, part of you. We are the 99 percent ... think a lot of people did not know that 1 percent of our people control most of the wealth in our country. You have made it clear that the class struggle is a great economic injustice."

Several members of Veterans for Peace have stood alongside the OccupyMPLS protesters from the start and were at Wednesday night's rally.

"You keep hearing over and over again, the vets in Iraq are fighting for our freedom," said Barry Riesch, a Vietnam veteran. "That's not true. These people are fighting for our freedom. This is fighting for freedom right here."

Bruce Berry of Minneapolis said he has visited other Occupy protests across the country, some of which have been forced to disband after confrontations with local authorities. He has been at the Minneapolis protest on and off since its start in early October.

"I need to continue holding our ground," he said, "to have freedom of assembly right here on our plaza, a public plaza. I don't think it says anything in the Constitution about tents."

Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252