(Updates with details from a letter in paragraphs 9-11)
By Terray Sylvester
BISMARCK, N.D. Nov 25 More than 30 activists
protesting plans to run an oil pipeline beneath a lake near a
North Dakota Indian reservation were arrested on Friday at a
retail mall during a rally timed to coincide with the busiest
shopping day of the year.
The rally was held at the main shopping center of North
Dakota's capital city on "Black Friday" in a bid to draw more
attention to a pipeline project that critics say poses a threat
to water resources and sacred Native American sites.
The demonstrators, including members of the Standing Rock
Sioux Tribe, walked into the Kirkwood Mall in downtown Bismarck
and formed a prayer circle just inside the entrance, defying
demands by mall management that they leave the premises.
About 100 protesters gathered at the mall at shortly before
1 p.m. and at least 33 people were taken into custody for
trespassing on private property after they disregarded repeated
orders to disperse, police said.
The incident marked the latest in a string of protests
against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, being built to
carry Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois en route to
U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) project is mostly complete except
for an especially controversial segment that is supposed to run
under Lake Oahe, formed by a dam on the Missouri River, about a
half mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
The Obama administration in September postponed final
approval of a permit required to allow tunneling beneath the
lake, a move intended to give federal officials more time to
consult with tribal leaders. But the delay also led to
escalating tensions over the project.
Confrontations between law enforcement and protesters turned
violent again last weekend when police used water hoses in
sub-freezing weather in an attempt to disperse about 400
activists near the proposed tunnel excavation site.
To protect the general public from violent confrontations,
federal authorities on Dec. 5 will close off land north of the
Cannonball River to the public and will set up a free speech
zone on the south side of the river, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
officials posted on social media on Friday, citing a letter from
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The land being closed off does not include the Sacred Stone
Camp, a point of resistance to the pipeline, south of the river.
The authenticity of the letter from the Army Corps could not
be verified by Reuters. Corps officials were not immediately
available for comment.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los
Angeles and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Himani