A judge in the US state of Oregon ordered seven members of an anti-government militia held until at least Friday, after prosecutors argued they might return to the ongoing armed standoff at a federal wildlife refuge, news media reported.

Leader Ammon Bundy and six other militia members appeared in federal court on charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony, after they were arrested late Tuesday in Oregon. An eighth protester turned himself in to authorities in Arizona.

The FBI declined to provide further details into what it termed an ongoing investigation into the death during the arrests of another protester, identified by media sources as LaVoy Finicum.

Mark McConnell, who claimed to have been present at the arrest, said in a video posted on Facebook that Finicum was shot by law enforcement as he "charged" them with his car.

Greg Bretzing, the FBI agent in charge of the operation, told a news conference that the arrests were the "first steps" to end the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began January 2.

"It is the actions and choices of armed occupiers that has led us to where we are today," he said. "Actions are not without consequences."

The protesters were members of an unofficial group calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, which took over the refuge's unoccupied headquarters to protest the imprisonment of two local ranchers whose land they claim was targeted by the federal government.

Earlier this month, Bundy told media that the group was occupying the building in a bid to "restore and defend the constitution."

"We have allowed our federal government to step outside the bounds of the constitution," he said, arguing that the federal wildlife refuge claims land not properly ceded by the state of Oregon.

In an arraignment of the seven arrested in Oregon before federal court, defense attorneys argued that the protesters were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech, according to news reports.

A criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday alleged otherwise, saying they had weapons, explosives and night vision goggles and "if they didn't get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town."

With their leader in custody and law enforcement appearing to close in, it was not clear how many militia members and supporters remained on the refuge. Through his lawyer, Bundy told them to "step back" and go home, according to broadcaster CNN.

Bretzing said the FBI had set up checkpoints on the refuge's access roads, but that remaining protesters were free to leave.

At least some of the remaining protesters told news media they planned to stay and were prepared to die for their cause, according to reports.

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