ReutersCannon Ball, North Dakota, United StatesFeb 23, 2017, 02.15 AM (IST)
At least nine people were arrested as a few dozen demonstrators opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline defied a Wednesday deadline to leave a protest camp they have occupied for months to demand an end to construction of the project. "We knew this day was going to come," said North Dakota Highway Patrol Lieutenant Tom Iverson.
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 US Army Corps of Engineers had set a 2 pm deadline for protesters to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on Army Corps land in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
As freezing rain and snow fell, some demonstrators ceremonially burned tents and other structures at the camp in what they said was a tradition before leaving a dwelling place. But others said they were going nowhere.
Around three dozen protesters gathered near the camp entrance as the deadline passed. About 20 police vehicles waited up the road and a few dozen protesters remained in other parts of the camp, a Reuters witness said.
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 had remained.
State officials have set up a travel assistance centre 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.
Trump, a Republican, signed an executive order clearing the way for the $3.8 billion pipeline to proceed.
A judge denied a request earlier this month by two tribes seeking to halt construction. The tribes are seeking an injunction to order the Army Corps to withdraw the easement.
The pipeline will be complete and ready for oil between March 6 and April 1, according to court documents filed Tuesday.