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Police pull back from protests

County police in riot gear and armoured tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of peaceful protesters after nearly a week of unrest and mounting public tension in the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot by a city police officer.

The dramatic shift Thursday came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

The more tolerant response came as President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about Saturday's fatal shooting — and the subsequent violence that shocked the nation and threatened to tear apart Ferguson, a town of 21,000 that is nearly 70 per cent black and patrolled by a nearly all-white police force.

Obama said there was "no excuse" for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful protesters.

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