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US: Portland calm as federal agents hand over to local police

US: Portland calm as federal agents hand over to local police

After days of clashes with federal police, the crowd outside the federal court in Portland Oregon remained peaceful after federal agents withdrew [Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]

The first nightly protest in downtown Portland, Oregon after a deal was struck for the withdrawal of federal agents guarding a court was largely peaceful and ended on Friday without any major confrontations between state police and demonstrators.

The scene outside the federal court that started with yet another demonstration on Thursday night stood in sharp contrast to the two weeks of violent clashes between the protesters and the agents sent by President Donald Trump to quell the unrest in Oregon’s largest city.

State and local officers stepped up their presence as part of the deal between Democratic Governor Kate Brown and the Trump administration to draw down the number of United States agents at the demonstrations that have taken place in the city for more than 60 days following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Portland’s federal court became a target for protesters, with the demonstrators trying to tear down a fence that was erected to protect it, lighting fires at the court’s entryway and hurling objects at the agents holed up inside. The agents most nights fired tear gas in return.

But at Thursday night’s protest, there was little violence and few signs of confrontation as several thousand people gathered near the court, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

A handful of protesters pointed lights and lasers at the building at about 10pm local time on Thursday, but state troopers remained inside and did not respond.

About 30 minutes later, hundreds of demonstrators gathered about a block from the court to listen to speeches. There was little sign of a law enforcement presence. The mood remained calm at 1am on Friday as the crowd dwindled to about 500 demonstrators.

In preparation for the law enforcement handover from federal authorities, state troopers, the local sheriff and Portland police met and agreed not to use tear gas except in situations with a threat of serious injury or death, Mayor Ted Wheeler said.

Wheeler, who was tear gassed when he joined protesters outside the court last week, added that tear gas “as a tactic really isn’t all that effective” because protesters have donned gas masks and often return to the action after recovering for a few minutes.

The Democrat also apologised to peaceful demonstrators exposed to tear gas used by Portland police before federal officials arrived.

Under the deal announced by Brown, the agents will withdraw in phases. But federal officials said the agents will not leave the city completely and will be kept on standby. 

Acting Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf said on Thursday that National Guard troops could be sent in should state police be overrun.

Separately, a DHS spokesman said Wolf had ordered an intelligence unit to stop collecting information on American journalists covering protests in Portland after a media report on the practice.

US newspaper The Washington Post on Thursday reported that the department compiled “intelligence reports” on journalists using a government system meant to share information about suspected “terrorists” and violent actors.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he believes the new collaboration between local law enforcement agencies will be seen “as a victory in many ways”.

“A lot of people came out to express their displeasure of folks from the federal government here and engaging in crowd control with members of our community,” Lovell said. “So I’m hoping that on many levels that people are happy in this development.”

Portland’s demonstrations have attracted up to 10,000 people for peaceful marches and rallies. The violence that has emerged was increasingly directed at federal property.

The US government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday. Over the past two months of protests, Lovell said the city police department made more than 400 arrests and tried many strategies to deescalate the confrontations.

Source: Aljazeera

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