Police block farmers' protest against planned Nicaragua canal

Police block farmers' protest against planned Nicaragua canal

Juigalpa (Nicaragua) (AFP) - Police in Nicaragua blocked thousands of farmers and rural residents from holding a march against a government plan to build a canal across the country, potentially carving up their land.

"They are closing off all the roads. It's pitiful what's happening in Nicaragua," said one of the leaders of the demonstration, Francisca Ramirez.

Police preventing buses and trucks carrying protesters from converging in the town of Juigalpa, east of the capital Managua, said the demonstration was illegal.

A police statement said officers faced down "groups of people behaving with hostility, armed with clubs, machetes, rocks and firearms."

A lawyer for the protesters, Monica Lopez, said 20 of them were temporarily detained, but police did not confirm that.

The farmers are angry that President Daniel Ortega in 2013 organized for a Chinese consortium, HKND, to build the $50 billion canal in return for a concession to run it for at least 50 years.

"Ortega: thief, traitor, selling our country," yelled the protesters.

"I'm afraid they will take my land away," said one of them, Adolfo Jarquin, 56, who owns more than 100 hectares (245 acres).

Many of them have found it impossible to obtain bank loans, and municipal works along the canal's path have come to a standstill, Ramirez said.

An opposition politician at the protest, Henry Ruiz, told AFP the canal was an "unconditional handover" of Nicaraguan land.

The plan calls for between 30,000 and 120,000 rural inhabitants along its 276-kilometer (171-mile) length to be displaced and land to be expropriated.

The canal is meant to rival the century-old Panama Canal. Thus far there has been no excavation, however, despite HKND saying it was meant to start at the end of last year.

Foreign observers in the country are skeptical about whether it will go ahead.

Iran, which has good relations with Nicaragua, has said it wants to participate in the project.