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Former Democratic presidential candidate elevates stance against project as president says Army Corps considering pipeline "reroute"
While President Barack Obama said his administration is willing to let "things play out" for a few more weeks when it comes to the escalating effort by Native American tribes to stop a pipeline in North Dakota, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) offered a distinctly more urgent response on Tuesday by saying "Damn right" the project should be stopped immediately.
Though Sanders has made his opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) known for months, he reiterated his opposition during a campaign rally on behalf of Hillary Clinton at Plymouth State University on Tuesday.
"Stop the Dakota pipeline!" someone yelled from the crowd during the speech, to which Sanders quickly responded: "Damn right." He then added: "That is one of the issues, but there are many others."
Sanders' strong stance against DAPL -- which has become a rallying point for native tribes and climate campaigners -- is sharpening the contrast offered by other Democratic leaders -- most notably Obama and Clinton.
Following escalating and violent tactics by police against pipeline opponents, who refer to themselves as "water protectors," Obama told Now This News in a Tuesday interview that while there is an "obligation for authorities to show restraint" against those trying to block the construction, he was willing to let events "play out for several more weeks."
With construction ongoing, however, tribal members have expressed serious concerns that in several more weeks the project would already be beyond the point of no return.
Obama did not say if or how he was willing to intervene further, but did indicate the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls easement rights where the pipeline would go beneath the Missouri River, is currently thinking about how the path could be "rerouted" in a way that would alleviate the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux and other downstream residents.
"We're monitoring this closely," Obama said. "My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline."
The issue that remains, he added, is "whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans." But when asked about the "shocking footage" showing abusive treatment of water protectors, Obama called it a "challenging situation" and said both sides have an obligation to refrain "from situations that might result in people getting hurt."
In response, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, applauded Obama's remarks. "We applaud President Obama's commitment to protect our sacred lands, our water and the water of 17 million others," Archambault said.
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