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Vieques protests flare anew; Navy detains 65 demonstrators
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- Sixty-five activists were detained by the U.S. Navy on Sunday after they trespassed onto a former weapons depot on Vieques, part of a long-running series of protests against military exercises on the island, which is part of Puerto Rico.
Lt. Jeff Gordon, a Navy spokesman, said the protesters would appear before a federal magistrate later Sunday to face possible charges. Sunday's arrests culminated a weeklong series of protests that have flared sporadically on the Vieques.
The protesters object to the U.S. military using parts of the island for shelling and bombing practice. Gordon called the protests "a multimillion-dollar smear campaign."
He said most of the activists did not live on Vieques and were affiliated with a Puerto Rico independence movement.
Since May, Gordon said, approximately 800 demonstrators have been arrested.
Guard killed in 1999
Many Puerto Rican residents have demanded an end to the bombing exercises since April 1999, when a civilian guard was killed during a practice by an errant bomb.
The Pentagon says it needs the range, which it has used since 1941, for combat training for Navy and Marine pilots. The Clinton administration negotiated a deal in January with the Puerto Rican government to limit military training to the use of non-explosive, "inert" bombs, until the island's 9,300 residents vote in an as yet unscheduled referendum.
The voters will decide whether to accept up to $90 million in economic aid in return for allowing the Navy to resume exercises with live ammunition.
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