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Navy Silent on Military Exercises

April 14, 2000

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ The Navy refused to confirm or deny a report Thursday that military exercises scheduled for May on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques have been moved elsewhere.

Protesters who have camped out on the Vieques bombing range for a year reacted triumphantly to an article published in El Vocero newspaper Thursday that said maneuvers by the USS George Washington battle group scheduled for May 10-20 were being moved.

The newspaper quoted Navy spokesman Jeffrey Gordon as saying the training would take place in the eastern United States. Gordon told The Associated Press the article contained inaccuracies, but he would not elaborate.

``I am not aware of any decision being taken on exercises by the George Washington battle group, and I don’t want to speculate on the matter,″ Gordon said. A spokesman at the Department of the Navy in Washington also declined comment.

Edith Seda, news editor of El Vocero, said the newspaper stood by its report and had received no complaints from the Navy.

Supporters of the protesters trumpeted the report Thursday, calling it a repeat of the Pentagon’s decision in December to send the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower battle group to practice in Florida after protesters refused to budge.

``This cancellation ... constitutes an enormous victory for the people of Puerto Rico and a re-vindication of the strategy of civil disobedience,″ said Fernando Martin, vice president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.

Protesters are preparing special vigils, choir performances and a Mass next week to commemorate the April 19, 1999 bombing accident that touched off widespread opposition to the Navy’s presence on Vieques. A civilian security guard was killed on the bombing range and four other people injured when a U.S. Marine Corps jet dropped two bombs off target during exercises.

President Clinton has promised to order the Navy out of Vieques by May 2003 if Vieques residents vote in a referendum to expel them.

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