(Quito, January 21. Amazon Watch) – The Confederation of Indigenous Communities of Ecuador (CONAIE) Tuesday demonstrated across the South American country to protest the possible passage of a new Mining Law they say endangers the environment and the lives of their communities.

Over 1,000 protesters marched in Quito and a total of 14 protesters were arrested in the northern regions of Cayumbe and Imbabura, after blocking the Panamerican Highway. Observers said that police fired tear gas and used force to remove people in spite of the fact that they had been asked to negotiate with protesters.

The Mining Law is being debated in the Congresillo or interim National Assembly. CONAIE’s concerns are that if the new legislation passes the new law would allow mining to take place anywhere in the country including protected areas.

CONAIE today issued a public statement in which it condemned what it termed “the criminalization of social protest” and categorically denied government accusations that it has links to renegade elements of the military and ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez.

Dr. Byron Real López, an expert in environmental law, recently reported that the government of President Rafael Correa is “concerned with solving important issues ... such as the corruption surrounding the indiscriminate granting of (mining) concessions”. However, he added, “the proposed law ignores the ecological and social conflicts that mining activity causes”.

CONAIE represents 95% of the Indigenous population and 45% of the national population as a whole.

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