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Oil pipeline protesters burn vehicles, set roadblock in North Dakota

CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) – Protesters who were ousted from a camp they established on private land in North Dakota to try to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline burned vehicles overnight, setting a highway blockade that remained in place Friday.

Meanwhile, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault condemned authorities’ removal of the protesters Thursday afternoon – an operation that was the most chaotic turn in the months-long protest. Archambault said the state is collaborating with the pipeline company “and escalating tensions.” The tribe opposes the pipeline that will skirt its reservation.

One roadblock on state Highway 1806 was comprised of a burned SUV and sheets of plywood, and another was made up of two burned heavy trucks on a bridge over a small creek. Numerous military vehicles and work trucks were parked in the area early Friday, and officers in riot gear were present.

Authorities did not immediately have details on damage to the bridge, or on plans to remove the roadblocks, and it wasn’t immediately clear whose vehicles were burned. The state Highway Patrol is maintaining its own traffic roadblock further along the highway to protect the public, according to Morton County sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller.

“That is not a safe place to be,” he said of the protest area.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers moved in Thursday afternoon to force the activists off the private property owned by the pipeline development company.

The nearly six-hour operation dramatically escalated the dispute over Native American rights and the project’s environmental impact, with officers in riot gear firing bean bags and pepper spray. Spent bean bag rounds and pepper spray canisters littered the ground early Friday.

Morton County sheriff’s spokeswoman Donnell Hushka said 141 people were arrested Thursday. No serious injuries were reported.

Among those arrested was a woman who pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and fired three times at officers, narrowly missing a sheriff’s deputy, according to State Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong. Officers did not return fire, she said.

Archambault, the tribal chairman, issued a statement calling the operation “acts of violence against innocent, prayerful people.”

“We won’t step down from this fight,” he said.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is working to complete the 1,200-mile pipeline to carry oil from western North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux say it could endanger water supplies and disturb cultural sites, though state officials say no sensitive sites have been found on the route.

The tribe has gone to court to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision granting permits. A federal judge in September denied its request to block construction, but three federal agencies stepped in to order construction to halt on Corps-owned land around Lake Oahe, a wide spot of the Missouri River, while the Corps reviewed its decision-making.

Meanwhile, construction has been allowed to continue on private land owned by the developer, with a goal of completion by the end of the year.

The opposition ratcheted up over the weekend when protesters set up camp on the land owned by Energy Transfer Partners – putting themselves for the first time directly in the project’s path. The operation to push out the protesters began a day after they had refused to leave voluntarily.

The camp cleared on Thursday is located just to the north of a more permanent and larger encampment on federally owned land which has been the main staging area for hundreds of protesters, including Native Americans from across North America, environmentalists and some celebrities. Many of the protesters had returned there Friday.

Cody Hall, a spokesman for the protesters, vowed a new camp would be built elsewhere in the pipeline’s path, but on federal land.

“It’s going to take a lot to move them (protesters) from there,” he said.


Nicholson reported from Bismarck, North Dakota.