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Canadian protesters back in force

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WINDSOR, CANADA (AFP) – Canadian protesters led by truckers angry at Covid-19 restrictions defied police and continued to occupy a key bridge on Saturday, while thousands more gathered in the capital while a two-week-old protest showed no signs of slowing down.

The demonstrations have inspired copycat protests that are now spreading around the world, including France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia.

In Ontario, where authorities have declared a state of emergency, the provincial Supreme Court ordered truckers to end their blockade of the strategic Ambassador Bridge, which connects the city of Windsor in Canada to Detroit, Michigan, the United States (US).

The protest forced major automakers in both countries to halt or scale back production and Washington on Friday urged Ottawa to use its federal powers to end the blockade.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised “increasingly robust policing”, adding that borders cannot remain closed and “this conflict must end”.

Canadian police, backed by armored vehicles, began clearing the bridge, tearing down tents erected in the traffic lanes and persuading some drivers to move their trucks.

But on Saturday evening, after hours of confronting the demonstrators, the police had not completely cleared the bay. Most of the cars and trucks blocking it were removed but hundreds of people refused to move.

A demonstration by truckers against health rules in the event of a pandemic and the Trudeau government. PHOTO: AFP

Windsor Police spokesman Jason Bellaire said the goal was to clear the bridge peacefully, but he could not say if it would be cleared by the end of the day.

No arrests were reported immediately on Saturday.

The Ambassador Bridge is vital to the US and Canadian automotive industries, carrying more than 25% of goods exported by the two countries.

Two other border crossings between the United States and Canada, one in the province of Manitoba and one in Alberta, remain blocked by protests.

In Ottawa, crowds of thousands filled the streets of downtown, the epicenter of the movement, honking horns, playing music, dancing and drinking hot coffee against the freezing cold. Very few police were there.

“I’ve supported the cause since the beginning,” said Marc-André Mallette, 38.

“I am not vaccinated and I am not dead,” added Mallette, a sewer worker from the town of St-Armand, near the American border.

Truckers first converged on Ottawa to lobby their demand to end a vaccination requirement affecting truckers crossing the international border.

But the movement has spread, as protesters – mostly insisting they want to protect their freedoms, but some displaying swastikas or Confederate flags – are now seeking an end to all vaccination mandates, whether imposed by federal or provincial governments. Anti-Trudeau signs and chants have become common along crowded Ottawa streets.

Political opponents say the prime minister was far too slow to end the protests.

Trudeau has repeatedly insisted that the protesters represent a small – albeit vocal – fraction of a population that has largely followed vaccination requirements and guidelines.

But anti-Covid measures in some provinces have been more restrictive than in much of the world, and the truckers’ message has resonated more widely than authorities expected.

A public opinion poll found that a third of Canadians support the protest movement, while 44% said they at least understood truckers’ frustrations.

Since the movement began, some provinces in central Canada have announced plans to end mask and vaccine requirements in the coming weeks as the number of Covid-19 cases declines. But the two most populous provinces – Ontario and Quebec – have yet to follow suit.