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Judge rejects injunction to stop Vieques shelling

The U.S. Navy conducted bombing exercises on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, since 1941.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge rejected Puerto Rico's request for an emergency injunction to stop the U.S. Navy's training shelling on the island of Vieques.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler clears the way for the Navy to resume its drills on the island, which have generated protests for more than a year. The Navy has said it wants to resume those drills as early as Friday, but the start could come this weekend.

Kessler rejected arguments from attorneys for Puerto Rico that the shelling would inflict irreparable harm on people living near the range.


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Justice Department attorneys argued the United States has the right to continue the drills while broader questions over noise are resolved.

Tuesday, Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon signed into law an anti-noise act that prohibits activities that produce noises of 190 decibels or greater along the island's shores. Based on that law, Puerto Rico Attorney General Anabelle Rodriguez then filed a complaint, seeking the restraining order to block the shelling.

Kessler Thursday asked Justice Department attorney Angeline Purdy whether the shelling would violate Puerto Rico's new statute on noise pollution. "Yes," Purdy replied.

But Purdy said there was no alternative but to continue. "If training is not allowed," Purdy told the judge, the military would "send out relief forces to some hot spot not fully trained." Or, she continued, forces already at these spots wouldn't be able to come home.

Eugene Gulland, a lawyer representing the Puerto Rico government in this case, said President Bush should decide the matter, using executive powers.

"The president needs to weigh whether to bring sailors home or subject citizens to health problems," Gulland said. "It's not a pleasant choice, but that's why the president must make it."

The U.S. Navy has announced its intention to resume using the range on April 27. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suspended exercises on Vieques in March to allow talks with Calderon, who has demanded an end to the bombing.

Justice Department attorneys said Kessler should not hear the case because the appropriate jurisdiction is Puerto Rico, not Washington, D.C. The Puerto Rican attorney general disagreed.

Last year, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested as they sought to block use of the bombing range after a guard was killed there by errant bombs.

The Pentagon says it needs the range, which it has used since 1941, for combat training for Navy and Marine pilots.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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