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Navy Detains Protesters on Vieques

October 1, 2000

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ The U.S. Navy detained 65 protesters Sunday near a former weapons depot on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, part of a day of antimilitary demonstrations.

The protesters entered the base by crawling under a fence before dawn, Navy spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon said. They would likely face trespassing charges, he said.

Later in the day, thousands of Puerto Ricans marched to demand the military abandon the Vieques training ground it has used since the 1940s.

``What’s that sound I hear? It’s the people on the warpath!″ they chanted, waving Vieques’ blue-and-white flag.

Authorities have arrested more than 600 protesters since May. More than 400 await trial on trespassing charges.

The Navy controls about two-thirds of the 20-mile by four-mile island. Opposition to the military’s presence on Vieques flared in April 1999, when a U.S. Marine Corps F-18 jet dropped two 500-pound bombs off target, killing a civilian guard on the range.

Protesters occupied the bombing range to thwart further exercises until U.S. marshals forcibly removed them on May 4.

Navy opponents say the military exercises have damaged the environment, stunted the island’s economy and endangered residents. The Navy says their claims are exaggerated and argues that the training is necessary to national defense.

President Clinton promised the Navy would abandon the western weapons depot and leave Vieques completely if the island’s 9,400 residents vote in a referendum to expel it. That vote is expected before mid-2002.

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