Eight arrested outside controversial bombing range in Puerto Rico
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- U.S. marshals and Navy military police detained eight people Sunday who allegedly cut through fencing to gain access to the Navy bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Security personnel used tear gas and pepper spray on another group Sunday that allegedly cut through a fence surrounding the bombing range.
"They pelted Navy security with rocks and bottles," said Navy spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon.
The Navy suspended its exercises Sunday out of respect for the beatification in Rome of Carlos Manuel Rodriquez Santiago, said Gordon. Santiago could become Puerto Rico's first saint.
The bombing exercises are scheduled to resume Monday morning.
The Puerto Rican government has been urging the U.S. Navy to end its training on the island of more than 9,000 residents. Controversy over the exercises has mounted since October 1999, when an errant bomb killed a civilian security guard.
Demonstrators have said the island's 9,000 residents are at higher risk for cancer and are exposed to dangerous levels of noise. They have sought to end the bombing permanently. The practice area is about nine miles from residential areas.
The U.S. Navy rejects charges that the exercises present a danger to the island's residents.
Public figures among the arrested
Thursday through Sunday saw a whirlwind of demonstrations with 136 people being arrested, bringing the total arrested since last June to nearly 600. Fewer than 10 percent of those arrested are from Vieques, Gordon said. Most are from mainland Puerto Rico or mainland United States, he said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, was detained by military police Saturday. Gutierrez will be turned over to U.S. marshals for arrest on trespassing charges and is being treated like any of the other demonstrators, Gordon said. Neither Gutierrez nor his aides could be reached for comment.
Environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. and actor Edward James Olmos were among other notables detained by the Navy.
Gordon called the actions of the protesters "incredibly irresponsible," saying they not only endangered their lives, but the lives of the Navy personnel who have to retrieve them.
The Navy's bombing practice had to be suspended briefly Saturday when groups of protesters violated the security zone by boat.
Puerto Rico asks pope to intervene
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Puerto Rico's governor has asked Pope John Paul II to intervene to stop the U.S. Navy exercises on Vieques.
Puerto Rican Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado gave the pope a letter from Gov. Sila Calderon during a meeting at the Vatican on Sunday. Mercado was in Rome to attend the beatification of Rodriguez.
Archbishop of San Juan Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, who was also at St. Peter's for the ceremony, said in a radio interview broadcast in Puerto Rico that the letter had been delivered, according to the AP.
"These steps are part of a process" to attract global attention to the situation on Vieques, Gonzalez Nieves said.
The Navy training exercises were scheduled to end this coming week.
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