Police close in on protesters blocking Canada’s capital

OTTAWA, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Police, some on horseback, broke into crowds of protesters to chase them from the streets of downtown Ottawa on Friday, arresting more than 100 people and transporting vehicles that were blocking the center of the capital for more than three weeks. in a protest against pandemic restrictions.

Fearing escalation or violence, Ottawa police had sought to disperse protesters with fines and threats of arrest, but on Friday hundreds of officers responded despite freezing temperatures and freshly fallen snow, clearing slowly part of the city. Read more

There were tense moments during the day as some protesters were dragged from their vehicles, and others who resisted the advancing police were thrown to the ground and had their hands tied behind the back.

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Protesters displayed “aggressive behavior”, forcing mounted police to intervene “to create critical space” in the late afternoon, according to a police statement. When it happened, a person threw a bicycle at a horse and was arrested for injuring a police service animal, police said.

Authorities said it could take days to completely clear the protesters and tractor-trailer trucks that have occupied Ottawa streets since Jan. 28.

“We’re going to be running this operation around the clock until residents and the community have their entire city back,” acting Ottawa police chief Steve Bell told reporters.

At least one military-style armored vehicle was seen downtown and there were at least eight helmeted officers on horseback. Some officers carried firearms, and others what looked like tear gas canisters.

No tear gas was used on Friday. But according to Canadian broadcaster CTV, some protesters said they were pepper sprayed and others stomped on by mounted police during the day. Reuters has not been able to independently verify this information.

The occupation began with a convoy of truckers demanding an end to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all cross-border truckers returning to Canada from the United States. But the blockade gradually turned into a broader protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Ottawa police kicked off their crackdown by setting up 100 roadblocks around the protest area to cut off any further flow of food, fuel or protesters into the area.

On Friday evening, police said they arrested more than 100 people and towed 21 vehicles. CTV reported that many truckers were seen leaving the area of ​​their own volition on Friday, but dozens of trucks still remained late in the day.

In addition to the arrested protesters, police said they arrested the three main organizers, two on Thursday and one on Friday.

Commenting on the arrest of its leaders, Freedom Convoy 2022, an umbrella group representing the protesters, said: “We will continue to hold our ground. We refuse to bow to abuse of power. The world is watching us, Canada.

“SHOW SUPPORT”

After a night of heavy snowfall, demonstrators with shovels erected a chest-high snowdrift on Wellington Street in front of Parliament on Friday and positioned themselves behind it waving Canadian flags and “Freedom Convoy” posters.

Police were leading protesters towards the Parliament building, clearing the territory along the way, but had not yet reopened the area in front of the House of Commons and under the Prime Minister’s office by the end of the day.

Police were expected to continue through the night, a government source said.

“If they want to stop me, I’ll reach out my hands and they can tie me up like everyone else here. We’re getting peaceful,” said Mark, a Nova Scotia protester who hasn’t given his last word. . Name.

The protest was non-violent for weeks, but on Friday shouting demonstrators scuffled with police and brief scuffles broke out. A video shared by Canadian media showed a young girl at the center of a tight group of protesters facing dozens of officers.

“Protesters have placed children between police operations and the illegal protest site,” Ottawa Police said on Twitter. “The children will be taken to a safe place.”

A teenage girl who attended the protest with her father and 12-year-old twin siblings said she had come to “show some support” for the truck drivers.

“Thank you all for fighting for the freedom of my brother and sister,” said Emily McAuley, who comes from a town 30 hours from Ottawa by car.

‘STAY AWAY’

Trudeau on Monday invoked emergency powers to give his government broader authority to stop protests. Lawmakers were due to debate those temporary powers on Friday, but the House of Commons suspended its session, citing police activity.

“If you are not within the grounds of the House of Commons, stay away from the city center until further notice,” reads a notice from the House of Commons.

Trudeau asked for the special powers after protesters closed U.S. border crossings, including Ontario’s Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, a choke point for automakers in the region. The closure of the bridge, which was cleared on Sunday, had hurt the economies of both countries and caused a major crisis for Trudeau.

As police ramped up work to clear the last stronghold of protesters, at least a dozen tow trucks were working to remove trucks and other protest vehicles still parked downtown.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, told reporters that the protesters could not be allowed to undermine government authority.

“These illegal blockades and occupations will end, and they will end for good,” Freeland said.

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Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Julie Gordon, Blair Gable, Lars Hagberg and Kyaw Soe Oo; Written by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Mark Porter, Sandra Maler and Richard Pullin

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