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Peru detains indigenous leader

LIMA — Peruvian police detained indigenous leader Alberto Pizango at the airport as he returned to face justice after 11 months in exile, with a Hollywood activist in tow, his lawyer said.

Pizango arrived from Managua. He faces charges in Peru for sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion in the north of the country in June that left 34 people dead when protestors clashed with police.

Indigenous activists launched protests that turned deadly because the government gave a green light to foreign corporations extracting natural resources from the Amazon basin region without consulting them.

"Pizango was arrested at passport control at the airport and has been detained," his attorney Marco Barreto told AFP. The 46-year-old is slated to appear in court on Thursday.

The detainee has led Peru's largest and most influential indigenous organization called Aidesep (Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle).

Dozens of supporters and detractors met him at the airport. A group of 20 backers chanted "Pizango, friend, the people are with you." Relatives of police killed in this year's protests in Bagua were also on hand to protest.

Joining him on his plane from Nicaragua's capital was Hollywood actress Q'orianka Kilcher, 20, who played Pocahontas opposite Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in the Academy Award-nominated motion picture "The New World." The US actress's father is an ethnic Quechua artist from Peru.

"My indigenous brothers and sisters only defended themselves against the exploitation of their lands," Kilcher said, promising to stay in Lima "until I am sure Pizango's rights are respected."

In October, President Alan Garcia's government asked prosecutors to shut down Aidesep entirely because Pizango had called for an indigenous uprising in Peru's Amazon Basin region.

Of Peru's 28 million people, about 30 percent are indigenous people. Around 44 percent of the population is "mestizo" or of mixed European and indigenous ancestry, about 15 percent is of European ancestry, some 10 percent is Afro-Peruvian and less then one percent is Asian.

Discrimination against those who do not speak Spanish is common.

Spanish is the Lima government's main language of operation. Millions of Peruvians are bilingual in Spanish and an indigenous language, such as Quechua and Aymara, but an estimated six million Peruvians speak mainly Quechua.

The population is very ethnically mixed on the coast. Indigenous Peruvians are more likely to live in mountain communities in the Andes, which run through the middle of the country, and in the tropical lowlands inland from the Andes.


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