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Protests hit Portland, Seattle hours after Biden inauguration

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Oregon State Troopers attempt to disperse a crowd of protesters in November 2020 in Portland./AFP
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Jan 22, 2021 - 06:40 AM

LOS ANGELES — Protests struck Portland and Seattle just hours after US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, police said Thursday, with Democratic Party and federal immigration offices vandalized and reports of tear gas and stun grenades used.

The Pacific Northwest region emerged as a hotbed of demonstrations last year, but any hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s term in office would quickly halt violent unrest tied to far-left groups were dashed Wednesday.

Around 150 people vandalized Oregon’s Democratic Party offices Wednesday afternoon, before a similarly sized group descended on the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland late evening.

“Some of the crowd had pepperball guns, electronic control weapons, large fireworks, shields and rocks,” said Portland police spokesman Kevin Allen.

“Federal officers launched crowd control munitions,” he added, without specifying the type. At least eight people were arrested.

Local CBS affiliate KOIN 6 News witnessed “what appeared to be tear gas, as well as stun grenades and less-lethal munitions like pepperballs.”

In Seattle, police said they had arrested at least three members of a group who smashed windows, tagged buildings with graffiti and burned a US flag.

Law enforcement did not comment on the nature or political agenda of the protests.

But the violence and vandalism emerged on a day when several far-left demonstrations were planned to put pressure on the new administration to swiftly introduce immigration, racial justice and policing reforms.

According to the New York Times, one flier handed out at the Seattle demonstration attacked Biden over “his stupid” crime bill passed in 1994, which was blamed for leading to mass incarcerations.

Within hours of taking office Wednesday, Biden signed a raft of executive orders, including measures to give millions of undocumented migrants a path to citizenship that the Trump administration denied.

The Democratic Party of Oregon said in a statement to AFP it was “frustrated and disappointed” by the damage to its offices — which were empty — but would not be deterred “from our important work.”

Protests in the Northwest region were initially triggered last year by anger over killings of Black Americans by law enforcement officers across the country.

Inflamed by the arrival of federal officers and right-wing militias, including the so-called Proud Boys, protests turned deadly over the US summer.

Marshall Billingslea, who led the negotiations for Trump, immediately denounced Biden’s offer, saying it “shows stunning lack of negotiating skill.”

“Took just 24 hours for Biden team to squander most significant leverage we have over Russia,” Billingslea wrote on Twitter.

“A far better approach would be a short, six-month extension conditioned on finalizing the warhead cap to which Putin agreed.

“That would stop the massive Russian build-up of ‘non-strategic’ warheads and also keep the world focused on China. Instead we are getting nothing for extending.”

Several experts as well as anti-nuclear campaigners disputed Billingslea’s analysis, saying there were no signs that Russia was going to budge or that China would join.

“The only opponents are those who seek an unlimited arms race. Glad to see the Biden administration dispensing with reckless games of chicken with global security on Day One,” tweeted Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategy expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He said the Biden administration can still find other ways to pressure Russia over its concerns on so-called tactical nuclear weapons — which Moscow could deploy in hot conflicts close to home, as opposed to strategic weapons that mostly target the United States.

“This buys the sundae without precluding future sprinkles,” Narang said.

Derek Johnson, the head of Global Zero, which campaigns for nuclear disarmament, called Biden’s proposal a key step in an eventual goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

“Unless you’re a defense contractor, this is good news for everyone,” he said.

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