Police take back Canadian capital after weeks of ‘anti-purge’ truck drivers protest

The last big excavators were pulled Sunday from the Canadian capital, as the streets became calm for the first time in nearly a month after a massive police operation ended a prolonged siege by protesters opposing Covid health rules.

A major clean-up was underway in snowy downtown Ottawa, as riot police confronted chauffeur-driven protesters for two full days and finally drove them out of the protest center outside Parliament.

“I am very happy to be back in my city,” Jeff Lindley, who lives and works downtown, told AFP. “The situation is much better today, calmer and calmer without the ominous presence of all the trucks and protesters.”

“Many illegal protesters are gone,” Ottawa Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said at a news conference.

But he added, “We have not finished this process yet,” explaining that the authorities were on alert “to make sure that no one returns to our streets again.”

A few protesters stayed behind late Saturday night, singing 1980s protest anthems and setting off fireworks outside a hastily erected four-meter (13-foot) security fence surrounding the Parliamentary Center.

But the last protest rally turned into a street party, faded away as the city froze.

Early Sunday, police were manning checkpoints restricting access to a 500-acre (200 hectare) area in the city center, while a large force remained on standby to defend the reclaimed land from truckers.

An AFP journalist saw only a few protesters in the area, and examined the area’s perimeter.

Someone who gave his name only as John said he was packing it after wandering for hours with the Canadian flag in hand.

“The place is completely closed, all I see are police everywhere,” he told AFP.

Ottawa police issued a reminder that the core area remains off-limits except for local residents and workers, and advised any remaining protesters to leave or risk arrest.

Bell said four people have been arrested within the security zone – for a total of 191 including protest leaders since police entered on Friday.

He said 79 cars have been towed from downtown — paralyzed since Jan. 29 when hundreds of trucks, RVs and other vehicles parked there in protest.

Meanwhile, crews removed the last of the tents, food stalls and other temporary buildings erected by protesters, clearing snow from the streets in preparation for the reopening of local businesses.

For the first time since big rigs rolled into the capital, Ottawa residents haven’t woken up to the constant honking that has become a staple of the protests.

Defender Chapin, who walked out of the house for the first time in weeks after feeling “encircled,” thumbed his thumb at police patrolling his downtown neighborhood.

“People have a right to protest, but at the end of the day after you’ve made your point, you go home,” he said. “These guys just stayed – honking and intimidating (the locals) and disrupting our lives.”

“The past weeks have been absolute hell,” he added.

Many protesters refused to concede defeat after their expulsion, telling AFP they would continue to press their case.

“The protest will go on in my heart forever,” Nicole Craig said as she headed home Saturday night.

Despite the relaxation of epidemiological health rules in Canada as case numbers trended down, protesters continued to demand a complete lifting of restrictions, which were among the most stringent in the world.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faces a lawsuit from a civil liberties group and a pushback from political opponents over the decision to invoke emergency powers rarely used to quell illegal protests.

This is despite polls showing that Canadians, who were sympathetic to the trucker-led movement, have turned against them.

Trudeau himself has kept his distance with the conduct of the police operation, and has declined public comment.

The caravan began a month ago in protest of mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to cross the US border. It has inspired imitators in other countries, as Washington prepares for a potential truck driver protest to coincide with President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address next week.

It caused an economically devastating blockade on the US border, including a bridge that was the main crossing point between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. The police evacuated that siege a week ago.

Dozens were arrested there, and at other crossings including four people in Coates, Alberta found with a cache of weapons and accused of plotting to kill police officers, authorities froze C$32 million ($25 million) in donations and bank accounts linked to the truck driver. a movement.

(AFP)

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