Deadline Nears For Protesters To leave Camp Near Dakota Pipeline


CANNON BALL, N.D., Feb 22 (Reuters) - Protesters opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline braced for a showdown with authorities as some vowed to defy Wednesday's deadline to abandon the camp they have occupied for months to halt the project.

President Donald Trump has pushed for the completion of the multibillion-dollar pipeline since he took office last month, despite objections from Native Americans and environmental activists who say it threatens the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Republican Governor Doug Burgum and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set a deadline of Wednesday afternoon for protesters to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on Army Corps land in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Freezing rain and snow fell on Wednesday morning and smoke billowed over the camp as demonstrators burned some of the remaining structures.

Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux member, said the activists would all stay at the camp until the 2 p.m. CST (2000 GMT) deadline.

"Then people will make their individual decisions about what their level of commitment is," he said by telephone on Tuesday. "Some will get arrested."

Protesters and law enforcement have clashed multiple times and hundreds of people have been arrested since demonstrations began in August.

The Standing Rock Sioux asked protesters to leave the area in December as they challenged the pipeline plans in court, but some 300 demonstrators have remained.

Ed Higgins, a 39-year-old military veteran from Lowell, Massachusetts, said he has spent three months at the camp, and that he plans on getting arrested peacefully on Wednesday.

He said he was unsure how many other fellow protesters would be taken into custody: "We will not know until it happens."

Law enforcement officials have urged people to leave the camp ahead of the deadline, saying they could be at risk from spring floods, as well as to remove anything that could be damaged during cleanup efforts.

Law enforcement officials have agreed to a request by camp leaders that only Native American cleanup crews be used. One activist, HolyElk Lafferty, said she had asked that government-contracted crews not begin their work until after the camp is cleared.

"It would raise the alarm and panic and not promote a peaceful process today," Lafferty said. "I want people to be safe on both sides."

State officials have set up a travel assistance center to provide departing protesters with food, water and health check-ups, as well as a voucher for one night's accommodation at a Bismarck hotel and a bus ticket home.


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