BERKELEY -- Protesters camping on the steps of the Berkeley post office thought police were about to shut them down, so they took down their banners and most folded up their tents after nearly three weeks camping out to postpone the sale of the building.

Originally a group of a couple dozen, only about a half dozen said they planned to spend the night there late Saturday.

Activists had camped on the post office steps since July 27, hoping to stop the postal service from selling the historic building.

At around 9 p.m., protesters said they spoke to Officer E. Keene -- who declined to give his first name to this newspaper -- who came by the encampment and told the protesters they would have to leave, according to Mike Wilson of Strike Debt Bay Area, one of the groups supporting the encampment.

When asked how long they had before they would be forced off the property, the officer responded that they would have about an hour to break camp.

But that's not Keene's recollection of the conversation.

"I think someone's given you some false information," said Keene, who was observing the protesters from across the street. "I told [them] it's time to pack up," he said, indicating that he did not issue an ultimatum. He said he told them that it was possible that the postal police would shut them down. No postal police were visible that evening, though according to protesters, they had seen two earlier in the day.

The result, in any case, was that the 15 or so tents were reduced to four, banners taken down and information tables taken away by 11 p.m. But, there were still about 25 people milling about, and there was just one police officer on a bicycle in the area.

Retired postal worker and one of the organizers of the encampment Dave Welsh said he had no intention of leaving. "I'm staying here," he said. "We set it up because we wanted to save the post office. I don't see any reason to leave."