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The confrontation between protesters and federal paramilitaries in Portland escalated early on Sunday morning, when demonstrators finally broke down a steel fence around the courthouse after days of trying.

The federal agents fired waves of teargas and “non-lethal projectiles” to drive back thousands besieging the courthouse to demand Donald Trump withdraw the paramilitaries, ostensibly sent to curb two months of Black Lives Matters protests. The city police, who had largely withdrawn in recent days, declared a riot and joined federal agents in making arrests.

Portland is now the focal point of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. But many other cities are affected.

In Seattle, in neighbouring Washington state, authorities said rocks, bottles and fireworks were thrown at officers who used flash bangs and pepper spray. The police chief, Carmen Best, told reporters she had not seen federal agents the Trump administration sent to the city.

In Oakland, California, after a peaceful protest, a courthouse was set on fire. In Aurora, Colorado, a car drove into a Black Lives Matter protest and a demonstrator was shot. In Richmond, Virginia, a dump truck was set on fire and police appeared to use teargas to disperse protesters.

In Portland, authorities erected the steel barrier around the federal courthouse after two earlier fences were swiftly torn down. The latest barrier was held in place by large concrete blocks and proved impregnable for several days.

Early on Sunday, protesters attempted to bring it down with teams pulling on ropes, but the ropes broke. Then they used a chain, a section of the fence gave way, and the rest was toppled to huge cheers before the crowd was driven back by teargas and rubber bullets.

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