National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson

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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday after finding the situation on the ground "greatly improved."

State Highway Patrol and other law enforcement from St. Louis County will continue taking the lead maintaining security in the St. Louis suburb, Nixon said in a statement.

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"The situation has greatly improved with fewer incidents of outside instigators interfering with peaceful protesters, and fewer acts of violence," the statement said.

The governor's office did not say specifically how long it would take to withdraw the National Gaurd, a process that will be coordinated with the Highway Patrol. 

Ferguson has been roiled by protests since the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, but only six arrests were made on Wednesday night, one of the calmest since Brown's death. Dozens of arrests had been made the previous night. Police reported no shots fired or Molotov cocktails thrown, similar to the night before. 

Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with local officials and continue the federal investigation of the killing. 

Holder earlier on Wednesday said he hoped his visit would have “a calming influence” on the area.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who has taken charge of the large police presence summoned from around the state to Ferguson, said Holder’s visit gave people confidence that their demands for justice are making progress.

“I believe it lets this community know that their voices have been heard by the top law officer in the land,” he told reporters early Thursday morning.

The guard was initially called in early Monday morning for what the governor called the specific task of protecting the town’s Unified Command Center. The center had been targeted by "coordinated, planned" attacks before the guard was called in, he said.  

"As we continue to see improvements, I have ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin a systematic process of withdrawing from the City of Ferguson," Nixon said. 

Protests along the street where Brown was killed were considerably calmer Wednesday night, in part due to poor weather conditions.

The crowd of protesters on West Florissant Avenue was smaller and calmer compared to the previous evening, when police in riot gear wielded batons and assault rifles to control the flow of people.

—Alex Bolton contribued from Ferguson

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