Peru protest leader takes refuge

Other News Materials 9 June 2009 09:11 (UTC +04:00)

A Peruvian indigenous leader linked to protests in the Amazon region has sought refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima, the prime minister says, BBC reported.

Alberto Pizango is accused of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion, after clashes in the north of the country with the army that left more than 30 dead.

A curfew has now been imposed in the area, after what Mr Pizango called "the slaughter of our people".

The protests arose over plans for gas and oil exploration.

Indigenous people object to government plans to open up what they consider their ancestral lands.

Prime Minister Yehude Simon announced during an address to members of Congress that Mr Pizango had sought refuge in the embassy.

An arrest warrant was issued for the indigenous leader on Saturday.

As well as the 30 protesters, 24 police officers are reported to have been killed in the worst clashes for at least a decade.

President Alan Garcia has accused the protesters of "barbarity" and said "foreign forces" were also involved.

The violence erupted on Friday after 2,500 Indians - many of them carrying spears and machetes - protested over the drilling plans.

Riots ensued after about 400 riot police tried to clear a roadblock, near the town of Bagua Grande, 1,400km (870 miles) north of the capital Lima.

Dozens of police officers were taken hostage, and nine were reportedly killed by protesters as the army moved in on Saturday to restore order.

There is now an uneasy peace in the area, the BBC's Dan Collyns in northern Peru says.

The country's security forces now have a firm grip on the area and are enforcing a curfew in the three main towns, he says.

But local people say the measures are preventing them from looking for the dead.

Eyewitnesses reported having seen bodies burnt or dumped in a river.

"The police were shooting to kill, but that's not all, because they hid the dead," one man told the BBC.

"They took them to the ravine and threw them from the helicopter in plastic bags. There are also dead on the river banks. Up there beyond the hill, there are more, as if it were a common grave."

President Garcia has roundly rejected the allegations. He accused the protesters of disarming, tying up and slitting the throats of the officers taken hostage.

President Garcia has blamed foreign forces - widely understood to mean Bolivia and Venezuela - for inciting the unrest, saying on Sunday they did not want Peru to use its "natural resources for the good, growth and quality of life of our people".

Fuel and transport blockades have disrupted Peru's Amazon region for almost two months.

The indigenous tribes want to force Congress to repeal laws that encourage foreign mining in the rainforest.

They have vowed to keep up pressure until their demands are met.