Dec 24, 9:29 PM EST

Nicaragua moves to break highway blockade


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AP Photo/Oscar Navarrete
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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- National police special forces and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday to clear a roadblock erected by residents in southern Nicaragua to protest a proposed transoceanic canal.

National police commissioner Aminta Granera said 30 people were arrested and 20 people were injured in the confrontation, including 15 police officers.

Granera said authorities had to use force after a week of trying to negotiate an end to the blockade on the Pan American Highway near El Tule, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Managua.

"The special forces called for the roads to be cleared, but they did not listen. We have acted with patience and tolerance," she said.

Protest leader Arnulfo Sequeira said the skirmish began at dawn and confirmed there were injuries.

"This is the way the government resolves things. This is the Christmas that it gives us, sending soldiers and police to kill us, because dead is the only way they will take us from our property," Sequeira said. Granera said there were no deaths.

Thousands had maintained the roadblock since workers broke ground Monday for the $50 billion canal, which will require the expropriation of land. President Daniel Ortega said property owners will receive a just price for their land. The Nicaraguan government has partnered with a Chinese company to build what could rival the Panama Canal.

Officials have said the 173-mile (278-kilometer) canal connecting the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean will be operational by 2019.

Environmental lawyer Monica Lopez Baltodano, a member of Grupo Cocibolca, which opposes the canal project, said Wednesday's events could lead to more violence and loss of life.

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