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Oregon police chief orders review of use of force at protest

Police in riot gear tried to keep two groups of protesters, many of whom had come dressed for battle, apart.

Police in Portland, Oregon, have been accused of being heavy-handed with people protesting against a rally by extreme-right demonstrators.

The city’s new police chief has ordered a review of officers’ use of force after some counter-protesters were reportedly injured during the demonstration.

Police in riot gear tried to keep the two groups apart on Saturday, many of whom had come dressed for battle in helmets and protective clothing.

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Far-right and antifa protesters demonstrated on Saturday (AP Photo/John Rudoff)

Dozens of the extreme-right protesters were bussed to Portland, one of America’s most liberal cities, from nearby Vancouver, Washington.

Saturday’s clashes were the most recent of several this year in the city as right-wing militants converged, met by counter-protesters, including members of anti-fascist, or “antifa” groups.

City officials have struggled with striking a balance between free speech and keeping events from spiralling out of control.

But on Saturday, some said police seemed to act mostly against those protesting against the presence of the extreme-right demonstrators, using stun grenades and what appeared to be rubber bullets against them.

Police “targeted Portland residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups, including white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazi gangs,” the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said. It called on officials to investigate.

Police ordered the counter-protesters to disperse, then moved in behind a volley of stun grenades. One of the rounds reportedly hit a counter-protester in the head, becoming embedded in his helmet and injuring him.

One woman was taken to hospital after being hit in the arm and chest with a “flash-bang” grenade, local media reported.

Four people were arrested.

Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, who assumed command less than a year ago as Portland’s first African-American female police chief, said she takes all use-of-force cases seriously.

She directed the professional standards division to begin gathering evidence to determine if the force used was within policy and training guidelines. The Office of Independent Police Review will be provided with the information for review and investigation.

Saturday’s incidents started with demonstrators aligned with Patriot Prayer and an affiliated group, the Proud Boys, gathering in a riverfront park. The Proud Boys have been characterised as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which is “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society”.

Hundreds of counter-demonstrators faced them from across the street, holding banners and signs with messages such as “Alt right scum not welcome in Portland”. Some chanted “Nazis go home”.

Officers stood in the middle of a four-lane boulevard, essentially forming a wall to keep the two sides separated.

The counter-protesters were made up of a coalition of labour unions, immigrant rights advocates, democratic socialists and other groups.

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