Portugal Colonial - Police move in to clear trucker-led protests in Canada capital

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Police move in to clear trucker-led protests in Canada capital

Police move in to clear trucker-led protests in Canada capital

Canadian police on Friday began a massive operation to clear the trucker-led protests against Covid health rules clogging the capital for three weeks, with several arrests made and trucks towed away.

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Hundreds of heavily armed officers gathered in the early morning on the edges of downtown Ottawa for the start of a gradual clearance process that could take days.

Overnight two protest leaders were arrested and charged with mischief and counselling others to break the law, while Friday morning an AFP journalist saw several demonstrators led away in handcuffs as police and tow trucks moved in.

"Some protesters are surrendering and are being arrested," Ottawa police tweeted.

"You must leave," they warned the protesters, telling them "you will face severe penalties if you do not cease further unlawful activity and remove your vehicle and/or property immediately."

Media were asked to "stay out of police operations for your safety." A police news conference was scheduled later in the day to provide an update.

Demonstrators appeared to dig in after a heavy snowfall, playing cheerful music and waving Canadian flags at the ends of hockey sticks.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" started with truckers protesting against mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.

At its peak, the movement also included blockades of a half-dozen US-Canada border crossings including a key trade route across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan -- all of which have been lifted after costing the economy billions of dollars, according to the government.

One of the arrested protest organizers, Tamara Lich, 49, was heard telling truckers as she was being led away by police late Thursday to "hold the line."

- Parliament closed -

On Friday, lawmakers took the extraordinary move to cancel a parliamentary session. Speaker of the House Anthony Rota cited "exceptional circumstances" and an "ever-changing" situation in the streets outside the seat of Canada's democracy.

Government workers and MPs were asked to stay away, while anyone already in the parliamentary precinct were urged to shelter indoors.

Police had given protesters on Thursday a final warning to leave, as barricades went up to restrict access to the downtown protest zone and surrounding neighborhoods -- encompassing more than 500 acres (200 hectares).

Criticized for failing to act decisively to end the protests and facing pressure from Washington, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government sweeping powers to deal with a major crisis.

It's only the second time such powers have been invoked in peacetime.

Lawmakers, split over the move with only a small leftist party backing Trudeau's minority Liberal government, were debating its use when parliament was hastily shut down.

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh told the Commons on Thursday that the protesters were "brazenly" trying to overthrow the government, while accusing the main opposition Tories of "endorsing" the trucker convoy.

Conservative MPs shot back that the government was using a "sledgehammer to crack down on dissent."

Trudeau has said the act was not being used to call in the military against the protesters, and denied restricting freedom of expression.

The objective was simply to "deal with the current threat and to get the situation fully under control," he said Thursday. "Illegal blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests... They have to stop."

Police this week arrested dozens of protesters at border crossings, including four people charged with conspiracy to murder police officers at a checkpoint between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana.

They also seized dozens of vehicles, as well as a cache of weapons that included rifles, handguns, body armor and ammunition.

Authorities also froze the bank accounts of protesters and chocked off crowdfunding and cryptocurrency transactions supporting the truckers.