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Police move in to clear Indigenous blockade of rail line in eastern Ontario

Police officers make an arrest during a raid on a Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory camp next to a railway crossing in Tyendinaga, Ont., on Feb. 24, 2020. - Chris Helgren / Reuters

TYENDINAGA, Ontario (Reuters) - Police moved in on Monday morning to clear a rail blockade by an Indigenous group in eastern Canada that had been stopping freight and passenger traffic for more than two weeks on one of the country's busiest lines.

Canadian National Railway Co obtained an injunction against those preventing rail traffic from running along its trunk line near Belleville, Ontario, on Feb. 7, but provincial police had taken a cautious approach until now.

Dozens of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) descended on the site of the blockade a little after 8 a.m. ET. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said there had been about 10 arrests so far.

Media were kept at a distance. But a group called Real People's Media, affiliated with Onkwehon:we clan families and their allies, posted a video on Twitter showing police wrestle two men to the ground after they refused to back away from the tracks. Police had given a midnight deadline to clear the line.

"Unfortunately, all avenues to successfully negotiate a peaceful resolution have been exhausted and a valid court injunction remains in effect," the OPP said in a statement.

The Tyendinaga Mohawk campaigners barricaded the line in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en from British Columbia, who are seeking to stop construction of a gas pipeline over their land.

In Ottawa, hundreds of protesters met in front of Parliament and marched in support of the Wet'suwet'en. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with top ministers to discuss the end of the standoff. Trudeau has said it is his government's priority to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, who make up about four per cent of the population and face higher levels of poverty and violence, and shorter life expectancies.

"We are not in any way compromising our commitment to the reconciliation agenda, but at the same time the impact of these rail disruptions, and the barricades, is untenable," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters after the meeting. "It's absolutely essential those barricades come down and that rail service be resumed."

On Friday Trudeau demanded aboriginal groups lift the rail blockades, which have also been staged in other provinces including Quebec, but both the Wet'suwet'en and Tyendinaga remained defiant.

The Wet'suwet'en band in British Columbia has been fighting the construction of TC Energy Corp's planned Coastal GasLink pipeline for a decade, but savvy social media use and years of outreach brought the group allies from across Canada.

(Reporting by Chris Helgren in Tyendinaga, Ontario, additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

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