Federal agents pull out of Seattle, mayor says

(Reuters) – U.S. agents deployed to Seattle to protect federal property have left the city after local officials complained their presence was escalating tensions, Seattle’s mayor said on Tuesday.

U.S. tactical forces arrived in Washington state’s largest city last week and were on standby to protect federal facilities after attacks on a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon.

Mayor Jenny Durkan rejected the deployment, saying it did not have the consent of local officials and could incite the property damage it was supposed to prevent.

She tweeted on Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told her that U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit agents had left Seattle. DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Durkan is among Democratic mayors who have called for an end to violence at protests against racism and police brutality after Republican President Donald Trump used images of the destruction for his re-election campaign.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday that federal agents were in Portland to stop “rioters” destroying the courthouse and rejected Democrats’ suggestions it was to promote Trump’s “law-and-order” campaign theme ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Anti-racism demonstrations escalated over the weekend, with Seattle seeing its biggest Black Lives Matter protests in weeks. A man was shot and killed at an Austin, Texas, demonstration and two protesters were shot and wounded in Aurora, Colorado.

A man was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the Colorado shooting. Two protest groups sued DHS on Monday for deploying agents to protect the Portland courthouse, saying it was unconstitutional for federal forces to take on roles reserved for state and local law enforcement.

Widespread and mostly peaceful protests against racial bias and police brutality have taken place in the United States since May 25 when George Floyd, a Black man, died under the knee of a white officer in Minneapolis.

Federal agents sent to Portland have used tear gas, pepper balls and stun grenades on protesters outside a federal courthouse, who have tried to tear down a fence erected around it

Barr told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that two federal agents sent to Portland may have been permanently blinded by lasers used by activists and that far more officers had been injured than demonstrators, with industrial-grade fireworks, rocks and firebombs hurled at agents.

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