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10 Police Arrested After Man Killed in Santo Domingo Protest

September 21, 1992

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ The government scaled back plans for the 500th anniversary of Columbus on Monday after police killed a human rights leader during a protest in this poor country against the lavish celebration plans.

Slain in the shooting Sunday night was Rafael Efrain Ortiz, 27, a lawyer who headed the Dominican Committee of Human Rights. Flavio Sanchez and Pedro Juan Reynoso, two union leaders, were wounded by police gunfire.

The police chief of this Caribbean island nation, Gen. Rafael Guerrero Peralta, said 10 members of a secret service unit had been arrested. He said a high-level investigation was under way.

The government toned down its plans to celebrate Christopher Columbus’ arrival here in 1492. It canceled a Columbus Day inauguration of a huge lighthouse dedicated to the explorer and said President Joaquin Balaguer instead would join Pope John Paul II for a Mass at the site on Oct. 11.

The lighthouse - slums were razed to construct it - has been criticized as a waste. The government has not released the exact cost of the multi-million dollar, half-mile long, 10-story-high lighthouse, whose beams are visible 150 miles away in Puerto Rico.

The critics acknowledge Columbus’ accomplishment, but also note his support of slavery and his role in the subjugation and extermination of native peoples.

On Monday, 20 students were arrested after cars and tires were burned in demonstrations at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. Police fired into the air to end the protest.

The shooting Sunday night began after some of the 300 protesters began roughing up plainclothes police videotaping the demonstration, said Ramon Almanzar, leader of the leftist Popular Organizations Collective.

Almanzar said Ortiz was shot in the head after he chanted, ″Columbus 3/8 You’re Not Welcome Here 3/8″

″It was a premeditated action,″ Almanzar said. ″We had already been warned by a police colonel ... that there were plainclothes agents who could provoke incidents.″

Almanzar said the shootings ″will not deter″ groups from holding further protests during the 500th anniversary celebrations in October.

The quincentennial celebration will coincide with a visit by Pope John Paul II, who is to open the Latin American Episcopal Conference.

The Vatican had no immediate comment to the government’s announcement it would share in the pope’s Mass.

Vice Foreign Minister Fabio Herrera Cabral said Monday a lead coffin said to contain the remains of Columbus will be transferred to the lighthouse on Oct. 6.

He said Argentine President Carlos Menem and Secretary-General Joao Baena Soares of the Organization of American States will attend the ceremony.

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