Thursday, September 29, 2011

President Morales asks for forgiveness of indigenous peoples

Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized for the humiliation suffered by indigenous peoples at the hands of the police over the weekend, and said his government did not order the attacks, state media reported late Wednesday.

"We ask for forgiveness -- forgive me," Morales said,. "It was not an instruction by the president. No one in the government would have thought such an attack could happen to our indigenous brothers." Mr Morales said: "Pardon me. There was no presidential order to disperse the protest."

On Sunday, 500 police tear-gassed and rousted about half of 1,500 indigenous protesters making a 300-mile march to the capital, La Paz, to protest a road project through a national park on their ancestral homeland. The marchers say four people were killed, scores of protesters were injured and several others were missing. On Monday, Bolivian officials denied any deaths or injuries but promised to launch a full-scale investigation into the raid, which they said was undertaken to save lives and avoid confrontations.

The protests and popular fallout from the crackdown present a challenge for Morales, who has said the 300-kilometer (186-mile) highway is vital for economic development in South America's poorest country.

At the heart of the dispute lies the construction of a highway through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park, a rainforest preserve commonly known by its Spanish acronym of TIPNIS. The Brazil-financed road would run through a nature preserve home to some 50,000 natives from three different indigenous groups.

The road is part of a network linking land-locked Bolivia, South America's only mostly indigenous nation, to both the Pacific through Chile and the Atlantic through Brazil, a key outlet for Bolivian exports.



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