Canadian police moved in on Friday to clear the last truckers and protesters from downtown Ottawa, in a mostly peaceful operation to end three weeks of protests against Covid-19 health rules.
Deployed by the hundreds, the police said they had made more than 100 arrests and towed around 20 vehicles.
The announcement came about 10 hours into the operation – a case that has involved lengthy confrontations with protesters who have been choking the streets of the capital by the hundreds for three weeks, including using their big trucks.
No clashes or injuries were reported and Ottawa Police Acting Chief Steve Bell said the operation was going according to plan, but would take time.
By early evening, many protesters’ vehicles remained downtown, but several truckers who had blocked the streets surrounding Parliament had removed their 18-wheelers.
Authorities continued to warn protesters to leave: “You must leave. You must cease all illegal activity and immediately remove your vehicle and/or property from all illegal protest sites,” Ottawa police tweeted, warning of possible arrests.
Throughout the day, heavily armed officers – including on horseback – lined up against demonstrators who locked arms, advancing slowly and methodically to fend off the bustling crowd.
An AFP reporter saw several protesters being led away in handcuffs as police and tow trucks arrived, but most simply surrendered.
A few protesters were tackled to the ground and at least one who refused to get out of his truck had his windows smashed and dragged out by police.
The so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ began with truckers protesting mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have grown to include an end to all pandemic rules and, for many, an anti-establishment agenda wider.
At its height, the movement also included blockades of border crossings between the United States and Canada, including a key trade route crossing a bridge between Ontario and Detroit, Michigan – all of which were lifted after costing billions dollars to the economy, according to the government. .
Most of the protest leaders have been arrested. Far-right activist Pat King was arrested early Friday afternoon as he was leaving town, with his arrest being broadcast live on Facebook.
Two other leaders, Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, were arrested Thursday evening.
Lich, 49, was heard telling truck drivers as she was led away by police to ‘hold the line’.
The movement’s Twitter account was still rallying supporters earlier Friday: “If you disagree with the government’s unprecedented and illegal excesses, drop everything you are doing and raise your voice,” he said. he declares.
On Friday, lawmakers took the extraordinary step of canceling a parliamentary session. House Speaker Anthony Rota cited an “ever-changing” situation on the streets outside the seat of Canadian democracy.
Police had given protesters a final warning to leave on Thursday, as barricades went up to restrict access to the downtown protest zone and surrounding neighborhoods – covering more than 500 acres (200 hectares). ).
Criticized for failing to act decisively to end the protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives the government sweeping powers to deal with a major crisis.
This is only the second time such powers have been invoked in times of peace.
Lawmakers, divided by the move with only a small left-wing party backing Trudeau’s minority Liberal government, were debating its use when Parliament was hastily shut down.
Trudeau said the act was not used to call in the military against protesters and denied restricting free speech.
The goal was simply to “deal with the current threat and gain full control of the situation”, he said. “Illegal blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests.”
This week, police also arrested dozens of protesters at border crossings, including four people charged with conspiring to murder officers at a checkpoint between Coutts, Alta., and Sweet Grass, Montana.
They seized dozens of vehicles, as well as a cache of weapons including rifles, handguns, body armor and ammunition.
Authorities also froze protesters’ bank accounts and blocked crowdfunding and cryptocurrency transactions supporting the truckers.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)