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Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Face Off With Authorities

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Associated Press Associated Press
CANNON BALL, N.D. -

Armed soldiers and law enforcement officers dressed in riot gear on Thursday began arresting protesters who had set up a camp on private land to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

State Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong says officers are responding to “aggressive” tactics by protesters, including some throwing rocks at officers and threatening them.

Fong said she wasn’t aware of any serious injuries to either officers or protesters.

A male protester was seen holding his leg after what an Associated Press reporter described as a loud boom. A protester with a medic bag tended to the man’s leg, and he was up and walking a short time later.

Fong said she wasn’t aware of any serious injuries to either officers or protesters.

Fong didn’t immediately have details of what happened.

About 200 activists supporting the Standing Sioux Tribe moved onto the site last weekend, setting up teepees and tents and saying the land is rightfully theirs under a more than century-old treaty, CBS affiliate KXMB reported.

Several protesters were led away and put in trucks, including at least one handcuffed, as authorities converged on the camp in North Dakota.

Sirens blared and officials told protesters over a loudspeaker to move out. Two helicopters and an airplane monitored the operation from the air.

The majority of the protesters were retreating from the confrontation on a highway outside the camp but still not leaving the area on private land.

Protesters tried to slow the authorities by parking cars on the highway near the camp in North Dakota and slashing vehicle tires. They also set a small fire at one of two blockades they set up on the highway.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said there were no clashes between authorities and protesters as the operation began about midday, but some scuffles broke out between protesters who wanted to stay put and those willing to leave.

The operation to push out about 200 protesters began a day after they had refused to leave voluntarily.

In the middle of it all, activist Wikaya Eagleman struggled to keep the peace.

“You can win against all this?” CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen asked him.

“Not saying we can’t win, but we’ll keep fighting,” he said.

A spokesman for protesters opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline said they will continue efforts to block the project despite being forced from a camp they set up on land owned by the pipeline developer.

Cody Hall said protesters likely will set up a new camp to the east, on federally owned land that’s also in the path of construction.

The main camp of the protesters is on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The agency has taken no steps to evict protesters from that camp, citing free speech reasons.

Authorities did evict the protesters from the camp on private land, arresting several in the process. Hall said it won’t be so easy to move the protesters off a new camp on the pipeline path if it’s on federal land.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement that the protesters’ actions “forced law enforcement to respond.”

“I can’t stress it enough, this is a public safety issue,” he said. “We cannot have protesters blocking county roads, blocking state highways or trespassing on private property.”

Robert Eder, a 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran from the Standing Rock Reservation, said protesters weren’t scared.

“If they take everybody to jail, there will be twice as many tomorrow, and every day that passes more will come,” he said. “If they raze these teepees, tomorrow we will be back.”

The months-long dispute over the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline reached a crisis point when the protesters set up camp on land owned by pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. The disputed area is just to the north of a more permanent and larger encampment on federally-owned land where hundreds of protesters have camped for months.

Law enforcement officials demanded that the protesters leave the private land on Wednesday, but they refused. Thick fog and cloudy skies on Wednesday appeared to stall the law enforcement effort, but the sun came out on Thursday with scattered clouds and a light breeze. Officials have frequently monitored protesters by air.

The Federal Aviation Administration is restricting flights over the Cannon Ball area until Nov. 5, allowing only aircraft affiliated with the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center and banning drones.

The activists fear the pipeline could harm cultural sites and drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The company and the state of North Dakota say no sensitive cultural sites have been found.

Protests supporting the Standing Rock Sioux have been ongoing for months, with more than 260 people arrested before Thursday’s operation.

The pipeline is to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can send it on to Midwest and Gulf Coast markets. Energy Transfer Partners has said the pipeline is nearly complete other than the work in south central North Dakota.

The protests have been garnering widespread attention, including several celebrities. Actress Shailene Woodley recently pleaded not guilty in a North Dakota court to criminal trespass and riot charges after her arrest in a protest against the pipeline. Woodley and 26 other activists were arrested Oct. 10. She livestreamed her protest on Facebook.

The protest has also drawn the attention of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and actor Mark Ruffalo were at the protest camp Wednesday but departed later in the day.

© 2016 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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