Eighteen injured, 25 arrested in Cusco natural gas protests

At least 18 people have been injured and 25 arrested in southern Peru’s Cusco department during protests to export natural gas,  Peru’s ombudswoman Beatriz Merino said.

Merino told Radioprogramas that she received the information from the director of the Kiteni hospital, in Echarate district where there was a clash between demonstrators and police on Wednesday.

Local authorities and residents oppose exporting of natural gas, arguing that it should be used for internal demand.

On Sunday, Peru’s government declared a 60 day state of emergency in Echarate, saying that the protests could put in risk the transportation and distribution of natural gas. The state of emergency suspends some constitutional rights including the freedom to hold meetings and of movement.

Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP), which forms part of the Camisea Gas Consortium, says the violence from the protests is putting at risk the supply of gas from Camisea and could affect electric energy generation for about 35 percent of the country, Radioprogramas reported.

Protesters have reportedly damaged infrastructure and took two security workers hostage, who were later released.

“The violent actions that we have been suffering the last week have been worsening,” the company was reported as saying. “The violence has produced considerable damage to the infrastructure of the system and, more importantly, it has put in risk the well-being of our workers.”

TGP is owned by Pluspetrol, Hunt Oil of the US, Brussels-based Suez-Tractebel, SK Corporation of Korea, Algerian state-owned Sonatrach, and the Peruvian construction and energy group Graña y Montero

Cabinet Chief Javier Velasquez has blamed the protests on local authorities, radical groups and members of Peru’s Nationalist Party in La Convencion province, where Echarate is located.

“I want to say to the country that this strike is promoted by radical members that prevent dialogue from taking place,” daily El Comercio reported Velasquez as saying. “Since Saturday I have received delegations from La Convencion province, but the authorities have been overtaken by the members.”

President Alan Garcia’s administration has faced opposition related to plans to attract foreign investment to develop the country’s extractive industries.

The biggest crisis occurred in June 2009 when indigenous protesters clashed with Peruvian soldiers and police on a remote jungle highway in the Bagua province of Amazonas department. The clash resulted in 33 deaths including 23 police.

Indigenous organizations had been seeking to repeal several laws that were enacted by the Executive in 2008 to fit in with private investment policies within the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States, as well as other laws that infringe on their own territorial rights.

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