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Burlington police fire pepper balls at protesters - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington police fire pepper balls at protesters

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Police in Burlington fired crowd-control devices at protesters Sunday one day before the start of an international summit.

Those in downtown Burlington, hit the record button on their cell phones Sunday afternoon as police deployed what they call "defensive projectiles" against protesters. Resident Tom Connors shot amateur video after stepping outside to go to the store.

"Went around (the crowd) and then I heard a few shots or what sounded like some pops so I started my video camera," he said, "I wasn't too sure what was going on, I'm not used to seeing that in Burlington."

Just hours earlier, hundreds had spent the afternoon peacefully serenading police and guests. The protesters gathered ahead of Monday's Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Protest group organizers say they believe a plan is afoot to switch the cargo of an existing pipeline - which runs from Canada to the U.S. - from regular oil to heavier more corrosive tar sands oil may be revived. Police shut-down Battery St. to allow them to lie down in the road: a symbolic oil spill.

"When we get a turnout of this size we're really gratified," said organizer Annie Dillon, "because it means the message is getting through to people and they really support what we're trying to do, and that is resist tar sands in Vermont."

Governor Peter Shumlin says he's won't support tar sands, and pipeline owners - who floated the plan in 2008 - say they are no longer pursuing that option. But protesters say recent expansions of the line paint a different picture.

Videos of Sunday's incident are already popping up on YouTube. Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling says just a small fraction of the protesters decided to cause problems, blocking busses bound for a dinner with the gathered regional leaders at Shelburne Farms.

Schirling said police deployed pepper balls, not rubber bullets, only after issuing multiple warnings and after protesters became physical with officers. He said protesters carried clubs and milk - which can neutralize the effects of pepper spray.

Police did not make any arrests and no serious injuries were reported.

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