Clashes in Peru leave 45 dead

June 7th, 2009 - 6:47 am ICT by IANS  

Lima, June 7 (DPA) The number of dead rose to 45 people Saturday in clashes between police and indigenous people demonstrating for restoration of their land rights in Peru.
Nine more police officers were killed by protesters who had taken 38 police hostage, the authorities in Lima said Saturday.

Another 22 officials were able to escape, include one who suffered serious injuries, Defence Minister Antero Flores Araoz. Seven other officers were still being held captive.

The violence began Friday when police used force to end a road blockade near the town of Bagua that was part of a nearly-two-month-long strike by indigenous groups. The Indios are demanding the revocation of laws that impact their claims on land.

Between 22 and 25 protestors had been killed, a spokesman for the groups involved in the demonstration said.

Government officials said nine police officers had already lost their lives Friday in the clashes. Media reports said up to 11 police officers were killed.

An added issue in the protests is anger among the Indios over the free-trade agreement between Peru and the US, which was implemented in February.

The indigenous groups refuted charges by Police Director Jose Sanchez Farfan that demonstrators had shot four police officers.

Alberto Pizango, the leader of the Indios, said the demonstrators had no firearms. They speculated that the police were hit by crossfire from their colleagues.

The Indios laid blame for the escalation that lead to the deaths on President Alan Garcia. Indio leaders who happened to be in Lima at the time of the killings said that warrants had been issued for their arrest and they did not know how they should react.

In the riots in Bagua, several public buildings were reportedly set on fire.

Indios of the Peruvian Amazon region charge that government decrees violate their rights to land and livelihood in favour of oil exploration. Demonstrations were spread across the provinces of Amazonas, Cusco, Loreto, San Martin and Ucayali.

Pizango announced that most of the protesting Indios had dismantled the street blockades and withdrawn from occupied oil facilities to avoid further bloody violence.

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