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Protest over development of Peru rain forest turns deadly

UP to 33 people died and 100 were wounded as Amazon tribes clashed with Peruvian police on Friday in escalating protests against the government's drive to lure foreign energy and mining companies into the rain forest.

In the worst unrest of Peruvian President Alan Garcia's government, tribal leaders said at least 22 protesters were killed. The government reported the deaths of 11 police officers and three demonstrators.

Angry protesters responded by taking a group of police hostage near an oil pumping station of state-owned Petroperu. They threatened to set it ablaze unless police called off efforts to break up demonstrations in the Amazon basin.

"We have taken 38 police hostage," Carlos Huaman, a protester, said on RPP radio. "There are 2,000 of us and we are ready to burn the station."

The conflict has underscored deep divisions in Peru between wealthy elites in Lima and poor indigenous groups in the countryside.

Critics say the government hasn't done enough to lower the poverty rate from 36 percent and that economic boom times before the current downturn didn't help the poor.

"I hold the government of President Alan Garcia responsible for ordering this genocide," indigenous leader Alberto Pizango told reporters in Lima as the government issued a warrant for his arrest for encouraging the protests.

Members of Garcia's cabinet accused protesters of being inflexible, refusing to negotiate. "The government had to act to impose order and discipline," said Prime Minister Yehude Simon.

In the violence on Friday, indigenous leaders said police shot at hundreds of protesters from helicopters to end a roadblock on a remote jungle highway 1,400 kilometers from Lima, the capital.

Police said protesters fired first, but tribesmen denied it.

Thousands of Amazon natives have intermittently blocked roads and waterways since April to try to force the government to revoke a series of investment laws passed last year and to revise concessions granted to foreign energy companies.


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