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Morales suspends highway through Amazon

Controversial plan halted after police crackdown on indigenous demonstrators.

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(Antler)

Construction work on a highway being build in the Amazon has been suspended by Bolivian President Evo Morales after police clashed with protesters.

Demonstrators have been marching for more than a month against the project, which is to cut through a national park, rainforest preserve and indigenous territory.

The decision was announced late Monday, hours after police released hundreds of activists who — in attempts to prevent protesters from being taken into custody — were blocking roads and stopping airport traffic.

Reuters reported that Morales said he would allow local regions to decide on the future of the road:

There needs to be a national debate so the two provinces [Cochabamba and Beni] involved in this can decide ... In the meantime the project is suspended.

Morales said a referendum could be held on the issue, though the BBC reported that government sources estimate this could take at least six months to organize.

Indigenous communities in Bolivia had been marching for 41 days against the project to build a 300 kilometer highway that would connect Brazil with Pacific ports in Chile and Peru. The project is understood to be funded by Brazil.

On Sunday police fired tear gas when rounding up the activists, with reports saying several people suffered minor injuries, while a young child had died from tear gas inhalation.

Al Jazeera said that Bolivia's defense minister Cecilia Chacon, resigned in protest against the crackdown.

Morales said a high-level commission, which would include international representatives, should be formed to investigate the crackdown.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/bolivia/110927/bolivia-suspended-highway-amazon-morales