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Minn. Highway Protesters Arrested

December 21, 1998

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Police wielding pepper spray and bolt cutters arrested 36 American Indian and environmental squatters who were protesting a highway rerouting project.

Protesters began their occupation of seven condemned homes Aug. 10, saying the new road would cut through a Dakota burial ground still used for occasional ceremonies. State officials have found no evidence of burial grounds.

Utility workers shut off water, gas and power in October. Nearly 600 police moved into the neighborhood with a bulldozer Sunday because they feared illegal natural gas hookups, said Bob McFarlin of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Gov. Arne Carlson, who paid an early morning visit to the scene, said the protesters endangered themselves and others.

``They’re basically anarchists who have illegally occupied property, substantially terrorized a peaceful neighborhood in that part of Minneapolis and have brought tremendous harm on that area for a considerable length of time,″ Carlson said.

Three protesters were taken to juvenile court and 33 were booked on felony charges of obstruction of justice. The last protester arrested was perched atop a chimney dressed as Santa Claus. About 40 demonstrators were allowed to flee.

Two injuries were reported, neither serious. At least one protester also reportedly suffered ill effects from pepper spray.

The highway rerouting has been planned for 40 years. Opponents say it would harm the area’s natural and cultural highlights, including a cold water spring and four 300-year-old oak trees that some Dakota consider a historic site for their religious practices.

Construction on the highway is slated to start next summer and be finished in 2000.

The operation to remove protesters was so massive that Minneapolis police, state troopers, and sheriff’s deputies were enlisted to secure a 3,600-foot perimeter around the seven houses. Officers were posted every 10 feet.

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