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San Francisco (AFP) - Tesla chief Elon Musk said Monday he is resuming production at the company's California auto assembly plant, defying authorities and escalating a feud over the Pacific state's pandemic shutdown.
Musk made the announcement on Twitter after several days of raging online and a lawsuit seeking to resume operations at the factory.
"Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules," Musk said in a tweet.
"I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."
Musk said, moments later, that state officials had approved the reopening but that the move had been blocked by local authorities.
"California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode," he said. "Also, all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!"
Musk's move comes amid rising disputes over the pace of easing the lockdowns imposed by states to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Over the weekend, Musk threatened to move Tesla's headquarters and factory out of California as a result of the standoff.
"Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately," Musk tweeted as part of a series of angry messages just before the company filed the lawsuit seeking to force authorities to allow a reopening.
Following Musk's statement, Alameda County's office of emergency services said Tesla was only allowed to maintain "minimum basic operations" until officials approve a plan and that it expected a proposal to be submitted by the company later in the day.
"We are addressing using the same phased approach used for other businesses which have violated the (shutdown) order in the past, and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures," the county statement said.
- Wooed by Texas -
On Monday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced support for Tesla's effort to reopen its factory and a Texas county said it would welcome the firm.
"I agree with Elon Musk," Mnuchin, the top US economic official, told CNBC television.
"He's one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly and safely."
The US administration is pushing a reopening of the world's largest economy, battered by weeks of lockdown, even as the daily death toll has generally been rising by 1,000 to 2,500 in recent weeks.
In Texas, one local official wasted little time in trying to woo the fast-growing car firm.
Hidalgo County said Musk is more than welcome in the state, tweeting a letter from senior local official Richard Cortez.
"We no longer have a shelter-at-home mandate." Cortez said in his letter. "All that is necessary is for you to pick a location."
The official noted that Musk is already familiar with South Texas because a launch facility of his other company, SpaceX, is nearby.
Musk has been raging on Twitter for days about his unsuccessful efforts to restart production, claiming the ban violates "our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!"
In late April, he delivered an expletive-laden diatribe during an earnings update call in which he dubbed coronavirus restrictions "fascist."