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Police reclaim Canada capital, force trucker siege end

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Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, where the last big rigs were towed away on Sunday. AFP

Police reclaim Canada capital, force trucker siege end

The last big rigs were being towed on February 20 out of Canada’s capital, where the streets were quiet for the first time in three weeks after a massive police operation ended a drawn-out siege over Covid health rules.

A major cleanup was underway in Ottawa’s snowy downtown, where police in riot gear faced off with trucker-led demonstrators for two full days, finally driving them out of their protest hub outside parliament.

The last few protesters stayed late into the night of February 19, singing 80s protest anthems and setting off fireworks at a 4m-high security fence hastily erected around the parliamentary precinct.

But the last gasp protest-turned-street-party fizzled as a deep freeze gripped the city.

On the morning of February 20, police were manning checkpoints restricting access to a 200ha downtown area, while a sizeable force remained on standby to defend the ground reclaimed from the truckers.

An AFP journalist saw only a handful of protesters in the area, testing the perimeter.

Ottawa police issued a reminder that the core area remains off-limits except to local residents and workers.

Police tweeted midmorning that two people had just been arrested – and a total of 191 since police moved in on February 18.

It said 57 vehicles have so far been towed out of the city – paralysed since January 29 when hundreds of trucks, vans and other vehicles parked there in protest.

Meanwhile crews took down the last tents, food stands and other makeshift structures erected by demonstrators, and cleared heaps of snow from streets in preparation for a reopening of local businesses.

And for the first time in weeks, Ottawa residents were not startled awake by the incessant honking that had become a staple of the protests.

Refusing to admit defeat after being dislodged, many protesters said they would keep pressing their cause.

Although pandemic health rules in Canada have eased as case numbers trend downward, protesters have vowed to press for a full lifting of restrictions, which have been among the world’s strictest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is meanwhile facing a lawsuit from a civil liberties group and pushback from political rivals over the decision to invoke rarely-used emergency powers to crack down on the unlawful protests.

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

Trudeau himself kept his distance as the police operation unfolded, refraining from public comment.

The convoy began a month ago as a protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to cross the US border. It has inspired copycats in other countries, with Washington girding for a possible trucker protest to coincide with this week’s State of the Union address.

The Canada convoy triggered economically damaging blockades at the US border, which police cleared a week ago.

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