Peru indigenous leader detained, blamed for unrest

LIMA, May 26 (Reuters) – Alberto Pizango, an indigenous leader sought by Peru’s police for allegedly fueling protests against foreign investment in which more than 30 people were killed, was detained on Wednesday upon returning from self-imposed exile in Nicaragua.

Amazon tribes guided by Aidesep, an umbrella organization led by Pizango that represents Indian groups in the Amazon, staged protests last June to force Peru’s Congress to repeal a series of laws designed to lure foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the rain forest.

But violence broke out when police tried to end roadblocks in place for weeks. A clash between protesters and police left scores killed or injured in the worst violence of President’s Alan Garcia’s term, prompting him to reshuffle his cabinet.

Pizango, who was wanted in Lima on charges he fomented the violence, fled soon after the unrest to Nicaragua, where he was granted political asylum by leftist President Daniel Ortega.

“That’s right (that he was arrested); now he goes to the cell where he’s going to be detained. He will sleep there and tomorrow (Thursday) at 8 a.m. he will be sent to the criminal court,” Pizango’s lawyer Marco Barreto told Reuters soon after his client was arrested at Lima’s airport.

Carlos Navas, a spokesman for Aidesep, said Pizango was the victim of political persecution. Navas did not say why Pizango decided to return home.

“Alberto Pizango is innocent … we doubt he’ll have a fair trial,” he told told reporters.

The bloodshed underscored divisions in Peru between wealthy urban elites and poor indigenous groups in the countryside.

Garcia suffers from a lack of support in rural areas, especially the Amazon, and his critics say his policies to favor free markets benefit mainly the urban middle class.

Peru’s Congress suspended several land-use laws two weeks after the violence, but indigenous people still want Garcia to sign a bill that would give them the right to be consulted about major natural resource projects on their ancestral lands.

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