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Ottawa police out in force amid bikers' 'freedom' protest

(AFP)

Ottawa police deployed in force Saturday in the Canadian capital’s center amid a motorcyclists-led anti-establishment protest, after making multiple arrests when a crowd became “combative” overnight. 

At least seven participants in the “Rolling Thunder Ottawa” rally, which comes two months after a three-week-long trucker-led occupation of the city, have been arrested, police said on Friday.

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Canadian authorities have vowed to prevent the motorcyclists’ rally from becoming as disruptive as the truckers’ demonstrations, which choked central Ottawa before the government invoked extraordinary powers to dismantle it. 

Three city blocks around the Parliament have been barricaded since the end of the truckers’ demonstration.

On Friday night, “Public Order Units were deployed… to disperse an aggressive and combative crowd,” police said, noting that the seven were held on charges including assaulting police. Twenty-four vehicles have also been towed. 

The bikers have not made their demands explicit, though several said in social media posts that they sought to “defend their freedom,” while others bitterly criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his policies.

Early Saturday, protesters on foot converged on a war monument in central Ottawa, said an AFP journalist. Among the protesters were military veterans wearing medal-bedecked vests, their participation reminiscent of the truckers’ protests, when former police and retired soldiers helped coordinate protest actions.

Many demonstrators carried Canadian flags — brandished as a symbol of protest when the truckers, angered over anti-Covid protocols and broader government policies, rallied in Ottawa.

On Saturday, drones could be seen flying overhead and the smell of cannabis wafted through the area, as helmeted police maintained a heavy presence.

Motorized vehicles are banned on weekends from the central area where the Parliament and the prime minister’s residence are located. 

Police say they are monitoring social media for “threatening or intimidating behaviors.”

A protest organizer, Neil Sheard, had said on a YouTube video that the restrictions on vehicle traffic could spark a “free for all.”

On Twitter, the police noted that some protesters were wearing protective gear. It added, “We are reminding everyone to remain lawful, respectful and follow police direction.”

On the fringes of Saturday’s protest, counter-protesters — many of them local residents unhappy about the latest intrusion — expressed their own frustrations.

A community group called Horizon Ottawa said in a statement that “the terror of the occupation cannot ever be repeated.”

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