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'He overplayed his hand' - subdued protests as federal agents withdraw

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Peaceful protesters

Peaceful protesters

AP

Peaceful protesters

After US President Donald Trump ordered federal law enforcement officers into Portland, Oregon earlier this month, the protests largely ended the same way for days: with tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests.

The first protest held since the federal agencies agreed to pull back their officers was a more peaceful affair.

As the Black Lives Matter-inspired vigil wound down early yesterday morning, there was virtually no sign of the Oregon State Police officers who had taken over protection of the federal buildings at the centre of the protests.

Instead of being forcibly removed, the crowd thinned out on its own. By a little after 1am a relatively small crew remained, far fewer than the enormous crowd that had gathered four hours earlier to listen to speakers and chant anti-law-enforcement slogans. The mood was celebratory, if subdued.

"Trump overplayed his hand," said Derrick, a 30-year-old protester wearing a helmet, ski goggles and carrying a shield with the Oregon flag on it. "He underestimated us."

"I don't think he realises there are so many people aligned with the so-called Antifa, what he calls terrorists," added Derrick, who asked that his full name not be published.

Some protesters said that without a notable police presence, the crowd had a different atmosphere.

"It's much more low key and a bit more subdued," said Shannon Echavarria (53), speaking at around 10pm. "Normally by this time, people would be banging on that fence. There'd be fireworks."

Echavarria said the change in tone was "100 percent because the feds are leaving". But the different atmosphere seemed to take some protesters by surprise. Many had arrived wearing helmets and gas masks but found themselves sitting on the grass of the park when they would have been running away on previous nights.

"Well, looks like there won't be much of a battle tonight," one man said at midnight to a group of shield-wielding protesters. Minutes later, a small fire was started inside the cordoned off area outside the courthouse, though protesters quickly put it out.

Some protesters were wary of the state police, noting the city police had used tear gas to dispel protesters long before federal officers arrived. But most protesters seemed to welcome the calm and believed Portland's protests would keep their momentum. "That will draw families back to the protests. Ultimately, while we wanted the feds out, this was really about Black Lives Matter," said Echavarria. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent