By ROB GILLIES and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER, Associated Press

WINDSOR, Ont. (AP) — A tense standoff at a U.S.-Canada border bridge eased somewhat on Saturday after Canadian police persuaded protesters to move the trucks they had used to barricade the busy international crossing. But protesters still blocked access after dark, hampering traffic and trade between the two countries for a sixth day.

Since Monday, protesters angry over COVID-19 vaccination mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have stifled access to the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ont., a major commercial thoroughfare.

Surrounded by dozens of officers, a man with ‘Mandate Freedom’ and ‘Trump 2024’ spray-painted on his vehicle left the bridge entrance early in the day as others began dismantling a small encampment covered in a tarp. A truck driver honked as he too drove off, to cheers and chants of “Freedom!”

But hundreds more protesters arrived to bolster the crowds and settled into a confrontation with police about two blocks away, waving flags and shouting. Although there were no visible physical clashes, the crowd still controlled the road leading to the bridge and traffic had not resumed in the evening.

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In Ottawa, the ranks of protesters swelled by the thousands as they had on previous weekends, and loud music played as people crowded downtown where anti-vaccine protesters had been camped out for the end of January. Hundreds of people also turned out for a counter-protest, with one carrying a sign that read: “Honk if the vaccines work”.

Protests on the bridge, in Ottawa and elsewhere have reverberated outside the country, with similarly inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and the US Department of Homeland Security has warned that truck protests could be underway in the United States.

Trudeau called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society.

Windsor Police tweeted that no one had been arrested but urged people to stay away from the bridge: ‘We appreciate the cooperation of protesters at this time and will continue to focus on the peaceful resolution of the protest . Area to avoid!”

Protester Daniel Koss said shortly before police marched on Saturday morning that the protest was successful in drawing attention to demands for the lifting of COVID-19 warrants and that he was glad it remained peaceful.

“It’s a win-win,” Koss said. “The pandemic is unfolding right now, they can remove the mandates, all the mandates, and everyone is happy. The government is doing the right thing and the demonstrators are all happy.

A judge on Friday ordered an end to the blocking of most vans and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, authorizing fines of C$100,000 and up to to one year in prison for anyone who illegally blocks roads, bridges, footbridges. and other critical infrastructure.

“Illegal blockades impact trade, supply chains and manufacturing. They hurt Canadian families, workers and businesses. Glad to see Windsor Police and their law enforcement partners have begun law enforcement on and near the Ambassador Bridge,” federal Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted on Saturday. “These blockages must end.”

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canada border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries, and auto factories on both sides have been forced to close or reduce production this week. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced computer chip shortages and other supply chain disruptions.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency for his city last week, where hundreds of trucks remained outside the Parliament Buildings and protesters set up portable toilets outside the Prime Minister’s office where Trudeau’s motorcade usually parks.

Stephanie Ravensbergen, 31, came to the capital to support her aunt and uncle who have parked their semi in the streets since the protest began. She opposes vaccine and mask requirements and said it was important that schoolchildren could see their friends’ faces and emotions.

“We want the right to choose,” Ravensbergen said. “We want the right to be able to do what anyone can do.”

On Saturday, protesters tore down a fence authorities erected around the National War Memorial two weeks ago after protesters urinated on it. Some demonstrators then chanted “liberty”, French for “freedom”.

“Completely unacceptable,” tweeted Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs. “This behavior is disappointing and I call on protesters to respect our monuments.”

Police released a statement calling the Ottawa protest an illegal occupation and saying, without further details, that they were waiting for “reinforcements” before implementing a plan to end the protest.

A former minister in the Trudeau government has taken the unusual step of calling out her former federal colleagues as well as the province and city for failing to end the protests.

“Surprisingly, it’s not just Ottawa. This is the nation’s capital,” Catherine McKenna tweeted. “But no one – not the city, not the province, not the federal government can seem to unite to end this illegal occupation. It’s appalling. … Get together. Now.”

Toronto police again kept protests from spiraling out of control by blocking roads and a major highway at one point to prevent any potential convoys from heading downtown.

As protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s infection control measures, such as mask rules and vaccination passports for entering restaurants and theaters, are already falling as omicron’s thrust stabilizes.

Pandemic restrictions there have been much stricter than in the United States, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the death rate from COVID-19 is one-third that of the United States.

Inspired by the Canadian protests, demonstrations against pandemic restrictions were seen in parts of Europe on Saturday.

At least 500 vehicles in several convoys attempted to enter Paris via key arteries but were intercepted by police. More than 200 motorists were ticketed and elsewhere at least two people were arrested amid a seizure of knives, hammers and other items in a central square.

The police fired tear gas at a handful of people demonstrating on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in defiance of a police order. An Associated Press photographer was hit in the head with a gas canister as police struggled to control the crowd.

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, dozens of trucks and other vehicles ranging from tractors to a car towing a motorhome arrived in The Hague, blocking an entrance to the historic parliament complex. Walking protesters joined them, carrying a banner reading “Love and freedom, no dictatorship” in Dutch.

Earlier this week in New Zealand, protesters took to the grounds of Parliament in a convoy of cars and trucks and set up camp. Police took a hands-off approach after initial attempts to remove them led to physical clashes.

Speaker of Parliament Trevor Mallard on Friday ordered his staff to turn on sprinklers on the lawn to water them and play Barry Manilow tunes and the 1990s hit ‘Macarena’ on loudspeakers to annoy them . Protesters responded by playing their own songs, including “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister.

A householder reported from Windsor and Gillies from Toronto. Thomas Adamson in Paris and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to correct typos in the 11th graf and contribution line.

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