The U.S. government called off its attempt to round up a herd of cattle that it said was grazing illegally in Nevada after hundreds of protesters created a showdown with federal officials.
"Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public," Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said in a statement.
The conflict between rancher Cliven Bundy and U.S. land managers had brought a team of armed federal rangers to Nevada to seize the 1,000 head of cattle.
The unusual roundup became a flashpoint for anti-government groups, right-wing politicians and gun-rights activists. Hundreds of Bundy supporters, some heavily armed, camped on the road leading to his ranch in an arid high desert spotted with sagebrush and mesquite trees. Some held signs reading "Americans united against government thugs," while others were calling the rally the "Battle of Bunkerville," a reference to a American Revolutionary War battle of Bunker Hill in Boston.
The dispute has tapped into long-simmering anger in Nevada and other big Western states rooted in the fact that vast tracts of land in those states are owned and governed by federal agencies.
When the news of the government's decision was read out, the group erupted in cheers.
After the announcement, several hundred of Bundy's supporters drove toward metal pens where government officials were holding some of the cattle that had been rounded up earlier in the week. When traffic backed up, many left their cars and walked toward the pen in a line.
The group chanted "open that gate" and "free the people" while government officials shouted orders back through bullhorns. Marchers and men on horseback waved American and Nevada state flags.
In an interview prior the bureau's announcement, Bundy said he was impressed by the level of support he had received.
"I'm excited that we are really fighting for our freedom. We've been losing it for a long time," Bundy said.