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North Dakota pipeline protest: Riot police fire rubber bullets and pepper spray at demonstrators

Roadblock is set alight and 141 people are arrested in clashes over the controversial pipeline

Katie Forster
Friday 28 October 2016 07:28 BST
Police fire pepper spray at protesters during clashes over the North Dakota Pipeline on Thursday
Police fire pepper spray at protesters during clashes over the North Dakota Pipeline on Thursday (Screenshot from footage published by Unicorn Riot)

A police operation to remove protesters from the path of an oil pipeline in North Dakota erupted into chaos yesterday, with officers in riot gear firing rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Demonstrators set alight a roadblock made from tyres and wood as police moved in to clear the road and disperse the assembled crowd during a six-hour stand-off.

Native American tribe the Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by environmental campaigners and other tribes in a months-long protest over the construction of a new $3.8 billion (£3.1 billion) crude oil pipeline.

They say it will wreck sacred sites and threaten water supplies for millions as it crosses the Missouri River near their reservation in the midwest US state.

Authorities said 141 people were arrested in the clashes, while protesters have accused the police of using undue force towards a peaceful demonstration.

Protester Dallas Goldtooth told Associated Press police were “very aggressive” and had also used rubber bullets and a “concussion grenade.”

An aerial photo of the stand-off between protesters and police provided by Morton County Sheriff's Office (Reuters)

Tensions between protesters and police intensified last weekend when around 200 demonstrators moved onto private land on the planned route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The land had recently been acquired by Dallas-based natural gas company Energy Transfer Partners, which received the go-ahead for construction of the controversial pipeline in July.

Law enforcement asked protesters to leave peacefully on Wednesday and were refused. On Thursday, some 200 officers in riot gear moved in to remove the protesters.

A roadblock is set alight during the protest (Screenshot from footage published by Unicorn Riot)

“We have repeatedly seen a disproportionate response from law enforcement,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.

The Native American-led protest has grown into a larger movement in the United States, drawing in other tribes, environmentalists and advocates for Native Americans.

“The police action today was to remove protectors from this land,” said North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said at a news conference.

“Hopefully, we have persuaded these protesters that our state highways and county highways, private property, is not the place to carry out a peaceful protest.”

Freelance journalist Jihan Hafiz was been arrested during a protest last weekend. “I’ve covered conflicts overseas, and I never imagined I would see this kind of show of force against peaceful people,” she told The Guardian after her release.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said protesters were free to exercise their free speech rights “as long as it was done legal and lawful.”

The tribe has asked the Obama administration to intervene to stop the pipeline construction and for the Justice Department to oversee local law enforcement.

“If they would only listen to us, and understand our struggles for the water for the benefit of everybody, we wouldn’t be in this spot,” a protestor told alternative news site Unicorn Riot in a video report.

The federal government has twice asked the pipeline operator to voluntarily pause construction near the tribe's reservation while the authorities reconsider the project's route, but courts have refused to compel a halt.

Energy Transfer Partners, which insists the pipeline complies with the law, resumed construction on 11 October.

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