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Alberta Premier Alison Redford, second from left, meets with Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, second from right, in Washington on April 9, 2013. With them are Cal Dallas, Alberta’s Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, right, and Diana McQueen, Canada's Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

CHARLES DHARAPAK/The Associated Press

Anti-Keystone-XL protesters repeatedly disrupted a speech by Alberta Premier Alison Redford in Washington – marking the first time a visiting Canadian politician has been publicly challenged over the controversial pipeline.

Protesters have been dogging U.S. President Barack Obama for months and are expected to raise the pressure all summer before he rules for, or against, funnelling Canadian oil-sands crude to Gulf refineries.

"Instead of taking multiple lobbying trips to D.C. to try and sell her plan to expand the tar sands industry via the Keystone XL pipeline, Premier Redford should go to Mayflower, Arkansas," where Alberta oil-sands crude spilled from a ruptured pipeline less than two weeks ago, said Rachel Wolf, a spokeswoman for the newly formed All Risk, No Reward anti-Keystone coalition that launched a television campaign this week.

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The Premier was addressing about 120 people at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, most of them apparently pro-pipeline, if their irked reaction to the protesters was any measure.

"People get very emotional about these issues," the Premier said, seemingly unfazed as yet another demonstrator was led away.

Later, Ms. Redford – making her fourth trip, and second in two months, to Washington to pitch the pipeline – said she was "a little surprised by the protests" although she added she understood that Keystone XL has become a deeply divisive issue in the United States.

Meanwhile, in her speech, the Premier said Alberta's vast oil sands were being "developed in an environmentally sustainable way," and laid out the province's ambitious plans for solar and wind and a host of other elements – all of which, she said, along with being a reliable supplier, a lawful democracy and a close neighbour, make Canadian oil a better choice for Americans. "We're proud of what we have achieved. Alberta is the safest, most secure and most responsible supplier [of oil] to the United States," said the Premier, who will spend Wednesday in Washington lobbying members of Congress.

But increasingly the public sentiment – currently broadly pro-pipeline – is in flux.

The presence of nearly a dozen plainclothes diplomatic security officers for a Canadian premier suggests that the burgeoning anti-Keystone movement has caught the attention of domestic security agencies. Aides travelling with Ms. Redford said they hadn't asked for extra security and had not had any inkling that anti-Alberta-oil-sands activists would target her only public event.

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