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Seattle protesters stake out 'autonomous zone,' angering Trump

Following days of violent confrontations with protesters, police in Seattle have largely withdrawn from a neighbourhood that protesters have transformed into a festival-like scene that has U.S. President Donald Trump fuming.

After days of violent confrontations, police have largely withdrawn from now 'festival-like' area

In this photo from Reuters video shot Thursday, a sign in a Seattle neighbourhood reads 'Welcome to Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.' (Reuters)

Following days of violent confrontations with protesters, police in Seattle have largely withdrawn from a neighbourhood that protesters have transformed into a festival-like scene that has U.S. President Donald Trump fuming.

The "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" sprang up after police on Monday removed barricades near the East Precinct police station and basically abandoned the structure after officers used tear gas, pepper spray and flash bangs over the weekend to disperse demonstrators they said were assaulting them with projectiles.

Trump taunted Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Jenny Durkan about the situation on Twitter and said the city had been taken over by "anarchists."

"Take back your city NOW. If you don't do it, I will," Trump tweeted.

The president has sparred before with Inslee and Durkan — both liberal Democrats. Inslee previously sought his party's presidential nomination.

Inslee tweeted Thursday that state officials will not allow threats of military violence from the White House.

"The U.S. military serves to protect Americans, not the fragility of an insecure president," he tweeted.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Durkan said it would be unconstitutional and "illegal" for Trump to send military forces there to clear protesters occupying part of the city.

At the same news conference, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said the protesters could not remain camped behind barricades in the city's Capitol Hill neighbourhood.

The zone set up by protesters stretches across several blocks on Capitol Hill, where dozens of people show up to listen to speakers calling for police reform, racial justice and compensation for Indigenous groups on whose land the city of Seattle was founded.

Signs proclaim "You are entering free Capitol Hill" and "No cop co-op" along sidewalks where people sell water and other wares.

"The people that you see here have all come together because we see injustice in our system and we want to be part of the solution," said Mark Henry Jr. of Black Lives Matter.

Henry said Trump's rant about the gathering was unfounded. "Donald Trump can call us a terrorist if he likes to, but what you see out here is people coming together and loving each other," he said.

A police officer walks in front of Seattle Police Department East Precinct in Seattle on Thursday. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Over the weekend, police were sharply criticized by city council members and other elected leaders. Since officers dialed back their tactics, the demonstrations have largely been peaceful.

Police officials say they are looking to reopen the precinct. On Wednesday, Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette said the barriers were removed from the front of the building after it became a flashpoint between officers and protesters.

Nollette said the precinct has been boarded up because of credible threats that it would be vandalized or burned. She offered no details about the threats and no fires have been reported at the site.

WATCH | See what Seattle protesters have done to a neighbourhood police precinct:

Protesters who sometimes clashed with police over the past two weeks say they have blocked streets and set up tents inside an 'autonomous zone' to hear speakers call for police reform and racial justice. 0:47

She said protesters have set up their own barricades, which are intimidating some residents.

"We are dedicated to working with peaceful protesters on a way to move forward," Nollette said.

Protesters have said they want to see the precinct turned into a community centre or used for purposes other than law enforcement.

Coun. Kshama Sawant on Thursday disputed accounts of violence or intimidation by protesters within the area on Capitol Hill and said it was more like a street fair with political discussions and a drum circle.

"The right wing has been spreading rumours that there is some sort of lawlessness and crime taking place at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, but it is exactly the opposite of that," said Sawant, a socialist and a critic of Durkan and the police.

Sawant said she wants the precinct to be "converted into a public resource that will actually be helpful to society."

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