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Trudeau calls for end to protests crippling Canada railways
[DAKAR] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday urged a swift end to indigenous protests disrupting trains in Canada as police readied to clear tracks.
The demonstrators forced the cancellation of hundreds of passenger and cargo trains over the past six days, in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional lands in westernmost Canada.
Speaking during a visit to Senegal, Mr Trudeau said the right to protest was fundamental to democracy, but added that the rule of law must also be respected.
"That is why I am encouraging all parties to dialogue to resolve this as quickly as possible," he said.
Mr Trudeau has made reconciliation with indigenous peoples a key priority of his government.
Jagmeet Singh, an opposition leader, called on the prime minister to end his overseas trip and meet with the chiefs. "Across the country, the situation is escalating," he said.
Police have warned protestors to leave a key rail corridor east of Toronto, or risk arrest.
Ontario Provincial Police spokesman Bill Dickson told AFP they are "monitoring the situation" near Belleville, Ontario, while attempting to coax protestors off the tracks.
Over the past week, protestors have blocked roads, rails and ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and occupied government offices in a bid to "shut down Canada."
Via Rail has said more than 24,000 passengers have been impacted by disruptions along a rail line connecting Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
Canadian National Railway, meanwhile, said it would be forced to "shut down significant parts of its Canadian network imminently" unless the rail blockades were removed.
"It's all Canadian supply-chains" that are being impacted, CN chief executive JJ Ruest said in a statement, citing as examples containers carrying consumer goods, grain, deicing fluid for airports, construction materials, and commodities.
CN, the third largest railroad in North America, moves an estimated C$250 billion (S$263.4 billion) worth of goods across Canada each year.
The blockade near Belleville has cut off all rail traffic between eastern and western Canada, and between eastern Canada and the US Midwest. Another protest has effectively shut down CN's northern British Columbia mainline between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
The protestors are demanding that police vacate Wet'suwet'en territory and the scrapping of the C$6.6 billion (S$7 billion) Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline.
Elected indigenous band councils along the 670km pipeline route support the project, but hereditary chiefs who say they hold title rights expressed concern over its potential environmental impacts.
Their arrests in raids last week by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police enforcing a court injunction to stop blocking access to workers building the pipeline became a flashpoint for protestors.