Rob Gillis, Wilson Ring and Robert BAMSTED
Ottawa, Ontario (AP) – police started to arrest demonstrators and tow trucks on Friday in the besieged capital of Canada, and soon the flow of trucks began to move under pressure, causing hope of the authorities to end a three-week protest against COVID in the country. -19 restrictions.
The dispersal of the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” began in the morning, when hundreds of police, some in special forces and some with automatic weapons, marched into the protest zone and began to take away protesters in handcuffs on snow-covered streets while truckers spoke. horns.
Tow truck operators – in neon-green ski masks, with their company stickers taped to their trucks to hide their identities – arrived escorted by police and began filming hundreds of large trucks, campers and other vehicles parked shoulder to shoulder near parliament. Police broke the door of at least one van before taking him out.
Fights broke out in some places, police repeatedly went face to face with protesters and pushed the crowd away shouting “Freedom!”. and singing the national anthem “O Canada”.
Many protesters stood their ground as the crackdown unfolded.
“Freedom has never been free,” said trucker Kevin Homound of Montreal. “What if they handcuff us and put us in jail?”
But in the afternoon, a steady march of trucks began from Parliament Hill as rows of officers made their way through the streets.
“There are signs that we are now beginning to see progress,” Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford said.
Hours after the demonstration, security forces said 21 people had been arrested and about two dozen vehicles had been towed away, including all those blocking one of the city’s main streets.
There were no immediate reports of injuries in one of the largest police operations in Canadian history, when officers were recruited from across the country.
The capital and its paralyzed streets were the last stronghold of the movement after weeks of demonstrations and blockades that closed U.S. border crossings and became one of the most serious trials for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They have also shaken Canada’s civilized reputation, with some opponents of the unrest blaming America’s influence.
Authorities have fluctuated against many protesters in recent weeks, in part for fear of violence. The demonstrations drew right-wing extremists and veterans, some of them armed.
When police and the government faced accusations that they allowed the protests to spiral out of control, Trudeau on Monday cited the Canadian Emergency Management Act. This gave law enforcement agencies emergency powers to declare blockades illegal, tow trucks, arrest drivers, disqualify them and freeze their bank accounts.
Ottawa police have taken their first step to end the occupation late Thursday night by arresting two key protest leaders. They also blocked most of the city center for outsiders to prevent them from helping the protesters.
The emergency also allowed law enforcement to force tow trucks to provide assistance. Earlier, Ottawa police said they could not find tow truck drivers willing to help because they were either sympathetic to the movement or feared retaliation.
As police worked to remove the fence, Pat King, one of the protest leaders, told the truckers, “Please stay peaceful,” while threatening the lives of tow truck operators.
“You are committing suicide in your career,” King warned on Facebook. “We know where the trucks came from.”
The King himself was later arrested by officers who surrounded him in the car.
Ottawa police have been making it clear for days that they are preparing to quell the protest at any moment. On Friday, even as the operation continued, police issued another round of warnings via social media and a loudspeaker, offering protesters another chance to leave and avoid arrest.
Instead, some locked their weapons when officers lined up to push them away.
“This is not Canada. We don’t need a divided country! ” Cried one woman.
Dan Holland, a protester from London, Ontario, assembled his car, which was parked among trucks when police closed. “I don’t want this police to beat me,” he said.
Children rolled up in coats and hats stood in the crowd. Police said that the protesters put young people in the middle in the confrontation and will be delivered to a safe place.
The two protest leaders arrested the day before were due to take place in court on Friday. Among the charges: pranks and obstruction of police.
Demonstrations of Freedom Convoy across the country were initially focused on Canada’s requirements for a vaccine for truckers entering the country, but soon escalated into a widespread attack on precautionary measures against COVID-19 and the Trudeau government.
The occupation of Ottawa has outraged many residents, who have complained of harassment and intimidation in the streets and have sought a court injunction to stop the incessant buzzing of trucks.
Trudeau portrayed the demonstrators as members of the “border” element, and the Canadians largely accepted the country’s restrictions against COVID-19, with the vast majority vaccinated, including about 90% of the country’s truckers. Some of the mandates for vaccines and masks imposed by the provinces are fast falling away.
The biggest border blockade on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, disrupted the flow of auto parts between the two countries and forced the industry to cut production. Authorities withdrew the siege last weekend after the arrest of dozens of protesters.
The last border blockade in Manitoba, opposite North Dakota, ended peacefully on Wednesday.
The protests were supported and received donations from conservatives in the United States
Gillis reported from Toronto. Associated Press writer John Siever of Toledo, Ohio, contributed.