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CANNON BALL, N.D. All but a few dozen of the
last holdouts from a months-long mass protest against a proposed
oil pipeline in North Dakota peacefully vacated their riverside
camp as an eviction deadline passed on Wednesday.
“We’ve very firm that the camp is now closed,” Governor Doug
Burgum, a Republican, told an evening news conference.
Following Wednesday’s exodus, Burgum estimated there were 25
to 50 protesters left. He said they were still free to leave
voluntarily so long as they did not interfere with cleanup crews
scheduled to enter the site at 9 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday.
The encampment has stood since August on U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers property at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux
Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, about 40 miles south
of Bismarck, the state capital.
Protesters calling themselves “water protectors” have
rallied there against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline
beneath a lake near the reservation, saying the project poses a
threat to water resources and sacred tribal sites.
Dubbed the Oceti Sakowin camp, the site became a focal point
for U.S. environmental activists and Native Americans expressing
indigenous rights, drawing some 5,000 to 10,000 protesters at
the height of the movement in early December.
Most have drifted since away, as tribal leaders urged people
to leave due to harsh winter weather, while pressing their
opposition to the pipeline in court. Roughly 300 demonstrators
had remained until this week.
Protesters and police have clashed multiple times since
August, with more than 700 arrests tallied.
On Wednesday authorities appeared intent on avoiding
clashes, though 10 arrests were made as protesters confronted
police in riot gear on a highway outside the camp entrance
before the officers retreated around nightfall.
President Donald Trump has pushed for completion of the
pipeline since he took office last month, signing an executive
order that reversed an Obama administration decision and cleared
the way for the $3.8 billion project to proceed.
Two tribes earlier this month lost a legal bid to halt
construction. The pipeline is due to be complete and ready for
oil by April 1, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
DEADLINE ON THE RIVER
Burgum and the Army Corps of Engineers had set Wednesday’s
deadline for protesters to leave, citing hazards posed by
impending spring floods along the Cannonball River.
The governor said the handful of demonstrators who remained
needed to make way for crews set to expand a cleanup that began
weeks ago to remove mounds of garbage, debris, human waste and
dozens of abandoned vehicles.
At least three dozen protesters could be seen gathering near
the camp entrance as the afternoon eviction deadline passed, and
a few dozen others were believed lingering elsewhere at the
site. Some vowed to stay put.
“I feel as though now is the time to stand our ground,” said
Alethea Phillips, 17, a demonstrator from Michigan who had spent
three months at the camp.
Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux member, said closing
the camp would not dampen his determination.
“You can’t arrest a movement. You can’t arrest a spiritual
revolution,” he said.
Activists set off fireworks on Wednesday morning, and as
freezing rain and snow fell, some demonstrators ceremonially
burned tents and other structures at the camp.
State officials said protesters had set about 20 fires, and
that two youngsters – a 7-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl –
were taken to a Bismarck hospital for burns after two explosions
occurred, the governor said.
Authorities have set up an assistance center to provide
departing protesters with food, water and medical check-ups, as
well as a voucher for one night’s hotel stay and a bus ride
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