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Indigenous Peruvians vow more attacks over control of the Amazon

Clashes with government forces left more than 30 dead last week, sparking concerns about a full-scale revolt. Protesters are fighting laws that would open their rainforest home to energy and agribusiness development.

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Many say the indigenous protesters are being backed by wealthy leftist interests who want to destabilize the Garcia government.

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"The natives are peaceful," says Rolando Ugarte, a hotel owner in Lima. "So you have to ask who is giving them guns and pushing them to do this. They are being manipulated." Echoing the belief of many wealthy Peruvians, Mr. Ugarte said the protests are ultimately about a fight over how the country's economy is structured. He and many other Peruvians interviewed for this story say that Venezuela and Humala's party are the powers behind the curtain.

There are also official claims.

Congressman Edgar Nunez, chairman of the Peruvian congress's national defense committee, claims to have evidence that Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez is financially backing the protesters through "casas de ALBA," or grass-roots Peruvian organizations named after the leftist trade bloc pushed by Mr. Chavez as an alternative to US-backed regional trade agreements.

Indigenous groups deny the claims.

A week before Bagua, national strike leader Alberto Pizango dismissed allegations that Venezuela or Humala's party were financing the movement. . "Our own people are collecting their resources to make this happen," said Mr. Pizango in an interview, his modest office building brimming with Indian leaders arriving from distant settlements. "This is coming from our people."

Mr. Pizango took refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy on Monday after being charged with sedition by Garcia's government. He's been granted amnesty by Nicaragua, which is led by cold-war nemesis of the US, Daniel Ortega, who's become a close ally of Chávez.

Until now, the normally verbose Chávez has made no declarations about accusations he is backing the protests. Calls to the Venezuelan embassy last week went unreturned. Likewise, Humala has denied the claims and accused Garcia's ministers of killing innocent Indians rather than negotiating over the controversial decrees.

More confrontations to come?

Since Bagua, along muddy oil roads, in gritty shacks and jungle river towns, the strikes seem to be taking on the tenor of full-scale revolt. On Thursday, native groups are planning a nationwide "solidarity" strike that could carry the risk of another violent confrontation.

Meanwhile, as the body count at Bagua inches upward with each news report, tensions are mounting.

As the attendees of the meeting rose one by one to denounce the government and promise "action" in a show of solidarity in the coming days, the distant thump of a helicopter high above the jungle caused several to step out and look.

"It's the military," said one man, shielding his eyes from the sun. "They want to see what we are doing."

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