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UPDATE 4-Portland has night without tear gas as feds withdraw

01 Aug 2020 / 00:58 H.

    (Adds comment from Scott, Trump, Portland police)

    By Deborah Bloom

    PORTLAND, Ore., July 31 (Reuters) - Portland had its first night in weeks without tear gas after state police took over from federal agents guarding a courthouse that has been the focal point of violence between protesters and tactical officers.

    The agents withdrew under a deal between Oregon's governor and U.S. officials to end a deployment that sparked a standoff between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic mayors over the use of federal police in U.S. cities.

    A few hundred people demonstrated outside the federal courthouse until around 2 a.m. when they left of their own accord, according to a Reuters reporter. On previous nights they were dispersed by federal agents shooting tear gas and other munitions at "pure-on anarchists" firing commercial-grade fireworks, slingshots and chemicals, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said in an interview.

    "Things went a lot better last night, last night was the first night in about two months that our officers and agents inside the federal court building there in Portland didn't come under a direct and immediate threat of being burned alive," said Scott, whose Border Tactical Unit agents were among Department of Homeland Security (DHS) police in Portland.

    Trump sent federal forces to confront what he called a "beehive of terrorists" in Portland who have set fires and broken windows at the courthouse since late May when protests against police violence began after the death of George Floyd.

    Democratic mayors said the deployment had escalated tensions at anti-racism protests and was political theater for Trump's "law and order" campaign ahead of the Nov.3 election.

    After a protester was nearly killed by a rubber bullet and several agents' eyesight permanently damaged by lasers, Governor Kate Brown agreed to send state police to the courthouse and Portland police cleared a park used as a protest staging ground. "Thank you to all those who demonstrated peacefully last night as well as those who interceded to stop any attempts to light fires or throw projectiles," tweeted Portland police chief Chuck Lovell.

    DHS agents remain on standby in the city and National Guard troops could be sent in should state police be overrun, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News.

    "If it doesn't clean up, we're going to do something very powerful, we have no choice," Trump told reporters on Friday before a White House meeting with police leaders. (Reporting by Deborah Bloom, Andrew Hay, Lisa Lambert, Andrea Shalal; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)

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