Anti-vaccine mandate protesters say they will block Ottawa for as long as necessary

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OTTAWA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Truck drivers who have been blockading downtown Ottawa for six days on Wednesday said they had no intention of leaving the Canadian capital until the government scrapped COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Despite increasing complaints from residents about noise, pollution and aggressive behavior from some truckers, Ottawa police have declined to end the protest, citing the risk of aggravating tensions.

The demonstration began as a move to force the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to drop a vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. It has since turned into a more populist anti-Trudeau movement.

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"We understand your frustration ... but the responsibility for your inconvenience lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians," protest leader Chris Barber said in a statement to Ottawa residents.

"We are here and we are not going anywhere until we achieve our objective, to see an end of all COVID-19 mandates and with that a restoration of freedoms of all Canadians," he said.

Trudeau on Monday said Canadians were disgusted by the behavior of some protesters and vowed not to be intimidated.

The inaction of the police in Ottawa - some of whom have posed for selfies with demonstrators - contrasts with more robust action by authorities in the western province of Alberta.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Tuesday moved in on truckers blockading the U.S. border at the town of Coutts but pulled back after clashes with some drivers.

As well as paralyzing Ottawa, the protests are also threatening the future of the official opposition Conservative Party, the Liberals' main rival.

Party leader Erin O'Toole faces a confidence vote on Wednesday from legislators unhappy that he did not support the protests more enthusiastically at first. He is also under pressure for leading the party to defeat in last September's federal election.

(This story has been refiled to add dropped word in headline)

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Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Mark Porter

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Thomson Reuters

Covers Canadian political, economic and general news as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and a winner of Reuters’ Treasury scoop of the year.