CRAYS HILL, England – British police used sledgehammers, crowbars and Tasers on Wednesday to clear the way for the eviction of Irish Travelers from a site where they have lived illegally for a decade.

By afternoon, police said they were in control of the site, and that bailiffs were beginning to move onto the disputed property.

Police said two protesters were Tasered and 23 people were arrested after police officers were attacked with rocks, other projectiles and liquids, including urine. Residents and supporters, however, said police had used excessive force.

Evictions of Travelers, a traditionally nomadic group, are relatively common across Britain. But few are as large, or as high-profile, as the one Wednesday at Dale Farm.

Police and bailiffs faced resistance from several dozen protesters who threw bricks and struggled with officers at the site, set in fields about 30 miles east of London. One mobile home was set on fire as police moved in at dawn, and several protesters chained themselves to barricades with bicycle locks to slow down the evictions.

The conflict over Dale Farm has simmered since 2001, when Travelers bought and settled on a former scrap yard. The legal battle dragged on for years until the Travelers lost a final appeal last week.

The local authority says it’s a simple planning issue — the 86 families lack permission to pitch homes on the land. The Travelers call it ethnic cleansing — the latest chapter in a centuries-old story of mistrust between nomads and British society.

“I’ve been through a lot of evictions, but I’ve never seen anything like this. … They have come in and started a riot that we never wanted,” said resident Kathleen McCarthy, who accused police of roughing up Travelers, injuring three. “We are being dragged out of the only homes we have in this world.”