Rob Gillis, Wilson Ring and Robert BAMSTED
Ottawa, Ontario (AP) – police arrested a lot of demonstrators and towed vehicles on Friday in the besieged capital of Canada, and the flow of trucks began to move under pressure, causing hope of the authorities to end a three-week protest against COVID-19 in the country. -19 restrictions.
By evening, at least 100 people had been arrested, mostly on sabotage charges, and nearly two dozen vehicles had been towed, including all those blocking one of the city’s main streets, authorities said. One officer was slightly injured but the protesters were not injured, Ottawa Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said.
“Police are continuing to move to take control of our streets,” he said, adding: “We will work day and night until this is completed.”
Among those arrested were four protest leaders. One was given bail and the others remained in prison.
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 companies’ stickers affixed 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. 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”.
Police reported later in the afternoon that protesters attacked by officers and tried to take away their weapons. Some began dismantling the equipment at a stage where music had been playing for weeks, saying they did not want it destroyed.
Many demonstrators stood on their own in the face of one of the largest police actions in Canadian history, with officers recruited from across the country.
“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 procession of trucks started from the Parliament Hill.
“There are signs that we are now beginning to see progress,” Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford said.
Police does not report how to protesters and vehicles left in the city center. All indications were that police would work over the weekend to clear the area.
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 reputation for civilization, some blaming America’s influence.
Authorities were reluctant to oppose the protests, 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 act 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 several days that they are preparing to return the streets. 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.
Dan Holland, a protester from London, Ontario, assembled his car 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 of confrontation.
The Freedom Convoy demonstrations 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.
Residents of Ottawa have complained of harassment and intimidation of truckers and have sought a court injunction to stop their incessant beeps.
Trudeau portrayed the demonstrators as members of the “god” element. Canadians have largely adopted restrictions in the country 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.