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Ecuador Indians Protest Over Govt's Amazon Mining Plans

3/23/2012 3:06 AM ET

More than 1,000 indigenous demonstrators and their supporters held a protest march in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito on Thursday, demanding the immediate withdrawal of government plans to open large-scale mining projects in the Amazon rainforest.

The indigenous demonstrators reached Quito earlier on Thursday after a two-week 430-mile march from the Amazon to oppose the mining plans on their traditional lands in southern Ecuador. They were joined in Quito by hundreds of environmental activists and members of a teacher's union.

The protest was triggered by a recent agreement between the Ecuadorian government and a Chinese mining company to set up an open-cast copper mine in the Amazon's Ecuacorriente Zamora-Chinchipe region. Protesters insist that such mines would destroy the forest in their traditional lands and lead to widespread pollution.

Some of the demonstrators clashed with police outside the National Assembly building in Quito, prompting police to charge the protesters and fire teargas shells to disperse the agitated crowd. Several protests and at least four police officers were injured in the violence.

Separately, hundreds supporting President Rafael Correa's mining policies gathered at several locations in the capital city. But there were no reports of clashes or confrontations between the rival groups. Hundreds of riot police were deployed at the sites of the protests.

The Leftist President said addressing a crowd of supporters gathered before the presidential palace on Thursday that his government was willing to reach a negotiated settlement with the Indians. He insisted that the deal reached with the Chinese mining company marked the beginning of a "new era" in Ecuador.

Correa, who rose to power in 2007, told his supporters that most of the revenues from the mines would be used for infrastructural developments and other construction activities like building roads, schools and hospitals.

by RTT Staff Writer

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