Portugal Colonial - Show of force as Canada police close in on protesters

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Show of force as Canada police close in on protesters
Show of force as Canada police close in on protesters

Show of force as Canada police close in on protesters

Police in riot gear cleared the main protest hub in downtown Ottawa Saturday, using batons and pepper spray, smashing truck windows and arresting dozens of die-hard protesters as they moved to finally end a weeks-long siege of the Canadian capital.

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After a night marked by clashes, protesters -- some in body armor -- held firm, linking arms and hurling gas canisters and smoke grenades at advancing police, while chanting "freedom."

But by midday police, backed by tactical vehicles and overwatched by snipers, said they had cleared Wellington Street in front of parliament -- the epicenter of the trucker-led demonstrations which began almost a month ago in protest at Covid vaccine rules.

"We told you to leave," Ottawa police tweeted to the demonstrators, announcing 47 new arrests in the largest police operation ever seen in the capital, drawing hundreds of officers from across the nation.

"We gave you time to leave," tweeted police, "yet you were assaultive and aggressive."

As tensions ratcheted up, Ottawa police accused protesters of launching gas canisters at officers.

And police said they used a "chemical irritant" -- apparently pepper spray -- against protesters "refusing to comply with orders to move," adding that several protesters in body armor and carrying smoke grenades and fireworks were subdued and arrested.

Police said that 38 vehicles had been towed since Friday -- many of the big rigs clogging the city center having already left when the police advance began.

- 150 arrested -

Within minutes of deploying, police had claimed a section of road in front of the prime minister's office and a stage where demonstrators had rallied crowds of supporters, pointing guns as they smashed windows of trucks and ordered occupants out, with smoke filling the air.

A short time later, police had retaken much of the parliamentary precinct, although hundreds of protesters were holding out in nearby sidestreets.

As the operation unfolded outside parliament, inside the complex lawmakers resumed debating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's controversial use of emergency powers -- for the first time in 50 years -- to subdue the protests.

Prior to Friday, police had arrested 25 people blocking border crossings to the United States. Since then, at least 150 more protesters in Ottawa have been taken away in handcuffs, including three organizers.

"I'm not leaving," Johnny Rowe had told AFP, dismissing threats of arrest.

"There's nothing to go back to," he said. "Everybody here, myself included, has had their lives destroyed by what's happened in the past two years."

Some truckers had chosen to depart on their own, driving their 18-wheelers away after three weeks of demonstrations that at their peak drew 15,000 to the capital.

Vince Green was one of them -- he said he and his wife, a former nurse who lost her job for refusing a mandatory Covid jab, had to return to Calgary, Alberta to check on their kids.

- Debate on emergency powers -

The so-called "Freedom Convoy," which inspired copycat protests in other countries, began with truckers demonstrating against mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to cross the US border. Its demands grew, however, to include an end to all pandemic rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.

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

Criticized for failing to act decisively to end the protests, 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.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Saturday that Can$32 million (US$25 million) in donations and in truckers' accounts had been frozen.

Canadian lawmakers have split over the use of emergency powers, with only a small leftist faction backing Trudeau's minority Liberals -- while a former opposition Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, said it amounted to a "sledgehammer to crack down on dissent."

A final vote on extending use of the emergency measures is to be held on Monday.

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