Friday, May 20, 2011

Protest against Chile dam plan ends in violence

By EVA VERGARA, Associated Press May 20, 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile – Tens of thousands of people massed in the center of
Chile's capital Friday night for new protests against the government's
plan to dam two wild rivers in the country's southern Patagonia region.

Most demonstrators were peaceful, but bands of hooded protesters attacked
police and smashed shop windows and damaged other property along a
10-block stretch of Santiago's main avenue.

The protesters started at the Plaza Italia and walked peacefully to the
front of La Moneda presidential palace, carrying flags and banners
denouncing the hydroelectric project that was approved for Patagonia on
May 9.

At that point, hundreds of masked people began throwing rocks at police,
who responded with water cannons and tear gas. The masked bands tore off
metal bars and scaffolding timbers to use against police, trashed stores,
wrecked signs and set fire to trash piles.

Thousands of other demonstrators sat down on the street and raised their
hands in a sign that they were unarmed and not involved in the violence.

The march came a week after another protest against the planned HidroAysen
project saw clashes between some demonstrators and police. Authorities had
suspended police use of tear gas after that violence, but reinstated its
use before Friday's march, citing threats of violence.

Environmentalists and others are angry over the $7 billion plan to build
five dams on two free-running rivers in a mostly roadless region of
Patagonia known for picturesque Andean glaciers and stunning deep green
valleys and fjords.

The government, business groups and economists say Chile needs the dams to
generate electricity sorely needed for Chile's booming economy. They say
the country should double its electricity production over the next decade.

Critics say more should be done to increase the amount of power obtained
from renewable sources, such as solar and geothermal energy.

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