By Terray Sylvester
BISMARCK, N.D. (Reuters) - More than 30 activists protesting plans to run an oil pipeline beneath a lake near a North Dakota Indian reservation were arrested on Friday at a retail mall during a rally timed to coincide with the busiest shopping day of the year.
The demonstrators, including members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, walked into the Kirkwood Mall in downtown Bismarck and formed a prayer circle just inside the entrance, defying demands by mall management that they leave the premises.
Police reported that at least 33 people were taken into custody at the mall for trespassing on private property.
Kandi Mossett, an activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, said 40 to 50 protesters were arrested. Many were seen being led away in handcuffs to a police van parked outside the mall.
According to accounts from police and protest organizers, the demonstrators were orderly and quiet.
Still, Mossett said the rally was held at the main shopping center of North Dakota's capital city on "Black Friday" in a bid to draw more attention to a pipeline project that critics say poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.
About 100 protesters had assembled at the mall by the time officers arrived shortly before 1 p.m. local time, Bismarck police Sergeant Mark Buschena said. Arrests were made after protesters disregarded repeated orders to disperse, he said.
The incident marked the latest in a string of protests against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, being built to carry Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois en route to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) project is mostly complete except for an especially controversial segment that is supposed to run under Lake Oahe, formed by a dam on the Missouri River, about a half mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
The Obama administration in September postponed final approval of a permit required to allow tunneling beneath the lake, a move intended to give federal officials more time to consult with tribal leaders. But the delay also led to escalating tensions over the project.
Confrontations between law enforcement and protesters turned violent again last weekend when police used water hoses in sub-freezing weather in an attempt to disperse about 400 activists near the proposed tunnel excavation site.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Hay)