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US federal police to begin conditional withdrawal from Portland

The US government is beginning the process of withdrawing federal police in the city of Portland from Thursday, which could diffuse weeks of heated clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters.

“They (federal officers) have acted as an occupying force & brought violence. Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown tweeted on Wednesday.

But Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf indicated that the officers will withdraw only if there are guarantees that local police can ensure the federal courthouse will be secured.

He did not set a timeline for when all the officers would leave. But he said a plan had been agreed with the governor that would include “a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland”.

Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler welcomed the withdrawal.

“Federal agents nearly killed a demonstrator, and their presence has led to increased violence and vandalism in our downtown core,” he said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“The Governor and I agree: Oregon resources, expertise and values are sufficient to manage Oregon issues,” he added.

The city’s protesters are sceptical the withdrawal will happen,

“I don’t think the Feds are going to leave, and if they do, the movement continues,” said 23-year-old Constantine during fresh protests on Wednesday.

How did the protests develop?

Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have surged in the US since the death in Minneapolis of unarmed black-American George Floyd in May.

The Trump administration sent federal teams to Portland on July 4 after weeks of demonstrations had seen graffiti plastered on the city’s courthouse and surrounding buildings. Windows were also broken.

Protests also heated up in Seattle, California and Virginia.

How did Trump react?

“They want to solve their problem. They’ve got a very short time to do it. But they’ll either solve that problem or we’ll send in the National Guard,” US President Donald Trump said at an energy conference in Texas.

His comments came as his administration said it was expanding the controversial “surge” of federal agents to three more US cities — Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.

Trump faces an increasingly tough battle for re-election in November and is campaigning on a “law and order” platform.

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