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US Wildlife Refuge Standoff Ends as Last 4 Protesters Surrender

  • VOA News

FILE - Members of the Oregon State Troopers and FBI are seen as in Burns, Oregon, Jan. 31, 2016. Four armed occupants remain at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.

FILE - Members of the Oregon State Troopers and FBI are seen as in Burns, Oregon, Jan. 31, 2016. Four armed occupants remain at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.

The six-week standoff at a U.S. national wildlife refuge between law enforcement authorities and armed, anti-government protesters ended Thursday, with the last four demonstrators surrendering.

Two men and the wife of one of them walked out of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a remote part of the northwestern state of Oregon. Hours later, the last remaining protester, who had rejected pleas to leave, surrendered as well.

The four holdouts were part of a larger group that seized the refuge Jan. 2, demanding that the federal government turn the property over to local authorities, and that two ranchers convicted of setting fires be absolved from having to return to prison to complete their sentences. But days later, the ranchers peacefully returned to prison, even as the protest at the wildlife refuge continued.

FILE - Rancher Cliven Bundy speaks with supporters at an event, April 11, 2015, in Bunkerville, Nevada.

FILE - Rancher Cliven Bundy speaks with supporters at an event, April 11, 2015, in Bunkerville, Nevada.

Late Wednesday, authorities arrested a well-known anti-government figure, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in 2014 sparked an armed confrontation with officials over cattle grazing rights on federal land. He was apprehended in Portland, Oregon, but apparently was on his way to the refuge, where his son, Ammon Bundy, had led the protest and was one of a dozen people arrested late last month.

The younger Bundy and others were apprehended on a road outside the preserve during a traffic stop that turned violent, with authorities killing one protester who they said was reaching for a gun.

The final hours of the protest played out after federal law enforcement officials surrounded the four remaining protesters late Wednesday.

Greg Bretzing, an FBI special agent in Oregon, said the situation "reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area."

Confrontation streamed live online

Authorities said they encircled the camp after one of the protesters drove an all-terrain vehicle outside barricades the protesters themselves had erected earlier. Officials said an attempt was made to approach the driver, but he drove away "at a high rate of speed."

For hours after authorities closed in, an acquaintance of one of the occupiers streamed a phone call with the four live on the Internet. During the call, FBI agents could occasionally be heard calling to the protesters on a loudspeaker, demanding that they put down their weapons and surrender. The protesters could also be heard shouting responses to law enforcement.

Nevada state lawmaker Michele Fiore, who said she was trying to help end the standoff, also joined the call as she was en route to the refuge. One of the holdouts, Sean Anderson, told Fiore that members of the group had agreed to turn themselves in at an FBI checkpoint at 8 a.m. Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

FILE - Ammon Bundy, center, walks off after speaking with reporters during a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Oregon.

FILE - Ammon Bundy, center, walks off after speaking with reporters during a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Oregon.

41-day standoff

The standoff began Jan. 2 when an anti-government militia group composed of about 100 ranchers, farmers, and so-called survivalists took over the refuge. The group was led by Ammon Bundy.

Ammon Bundy and most of the group's leadership – including Ammon's brother Ryan – were arrested Jan. 26 when they left the refuge for a meeting and authorities stopped the protester's vehicles. Shots were fired during the incident, and one of the occupiers, Robert Finicum, was killed. Federal officials said Finicum reached into his jacket for a handgun, a claim the protesters and their supporters dispute.

Most of the occupiers left in the days and weeks after the arrests, but the four remaining had said they wanted assurances they won't face charges if they leave.

A federal grand jury has indicted 11 people arrested for their roles in the refuge occupation, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

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