Navy Begins Bombing Practice Despite Protesters

From Reuters

The U.S. Navy began a round of bombing practice Monday on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques despite protesters' efforts to infiltrate a bombing range and halt war games.

The bombing, with dummy weapons, began on schedule about 2 p.m. EDT and was "going fine," Lt. Cmdr. Awilda Tereira said.

Navy security officers arrested eight protesters on the bombing range before the exercises began. Nine more--including Jacqueline Jackson, wife of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader--were later apprehended by federal security officers after cutting a fence in a remote area and entering another part of the Navy's Camp Garcia, Navy officials said.

An announcement by President Bush last week that the Navy will stop using the island for war games in May 2003 failed to appease protesters, who want an immediate end to bombing that they say has seriously harmed their health and ruined the environment.

About 100 demonstrators gathered outside Camp Garcia, many wearing red bandannas with the word Paz, or Peace, emblazoned in white. They said two dozen more students, lawyers, engineers and teachers, mostly from Vieques, had sneaked onto the base and were hiding on the range in hopes of halting the bombing.

Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode said the protesters had not interrupted the exercise. "Hopefully, the protesters out there will remain peaceful and not trespass, and everybody will be happy," she said.

The Navy planned to drop 1,500 bombs this week from aircraft during training involving the Theodore Roosevelt battle group, which includes 11 ships and 10,000 sailors.

After his wife's arrest, Jackson phoned from the United States. In comments relayed by loudspeaker to the protesters, he said, "I want to make it clear that people who are driven by destiny are not afraid of schemes of intimidation."

The Navy has used the 33,000-acre island for bombing practice for 60 years, calling it the only place they can conduct crucial training for amphibious landings.

Protesters say the exercises have damaged the health of Vieques' 9,300 people, who have high rates of cancer, lung and skin problems.

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