RPT-Peru's Congress repeals land laws pushed by Garcia
AugUST 22, 2008 - Reuters

LIMA, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Peru's Congress voted on Friday to overturn two land laws issued by President Alan Garcia which sparked protests and highlighted tensions over whether to develop tribal land or conserve it.

Indigenous groups ended days of protests earlier this week at key energy sites after the head of the legislature agreed to hold a vote on the laws.

Protesters feared the laws, which made it easier for mining and energy companies to buy communally owned land, would lead to a land grab, especially in the Amazon rain forest.

The vote was a defeat for Garcia, who decreed the laws under powers Congress gave him to bring Peruvian law in line with a recently signed free-trade pact with the United States. He has 15 days to sign the laws' repeal or send them back to Congress, which can override his vote.

"Today marks the beginning of a true democracy," said Alberto Pizango, head of the indigenous rights group AIDESEP, outside Congress after the vote. "It's a new dawn."

The protests underscored a simmering conflict in Peru centered on whether to conserve or develop natural resources on lands that tribes say they have been using for centuries.

Garcia, who has said revoking the laws would be a "huge mistake," pushed them as a way to lure capital to Peru's poor regions. His approval rate has fallen to 22 percent.

During the protests, tribal groups seized control of two energy sites -- a natural gas field being developed in southeastern Peru by Argentine company Pluspetrol, and an oil pipeline in northern Peru owned by state-run Petroperu. They also took two police officers hostage.

Pluspetrol has said the protest did not cut natural gas output, while Petroperu was forced to shut its pipeline. Officials at both companies say the protests have since ended.

The mobilization spooked the government as it was launched just as energy supplies tightened and two blackouts hit the capital, Lima.

The government declared a state of emergency earlier this week for the provinces of Cusco, Loreto and Amazonas, clearing the way for it to send in the army to disperse protesters. (Reporting by Dante Alva; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Kevin Gray and Todd Eastham)