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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 September 2005, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Puerto Rico rebel dies in hideout
Protester carrying a poster of Filiberto Ojeda Rios at a demonstration in San Juan on Friday
Ojeda Rios' supporters took to the streets after news of the gunfight
A fugitive Puerto Rican nationalist who had been on the run for 15 years has died after a gunfight with FBI agents.

Police said they had found the body of Filiberto Ojeda Rios at his hideout in the Puerto Rican town of Hormigueros.

In 1992, he was convicted in absentia for the 1983 robbery of $7m from a bank depot in the US state of Connecticut.

The US considers the robbery an act of domestic terrorism because it allegedly was carried out by nationalists from the self-governing US commonwealth.

Ojeda Rios, leader of the Macheteros (or Cane Cutters) nationalist movement, went on the run in 1990 while awaiting trial for the robbery.

FBI agents surrounded the farmhouse where he was hiding on Friday afternoon. Two helicopters circled overhead, while Puerto Rican police sealed off access to the farm.

'Martyr' claim

Puerto Rico police chief Pedro Toledo said it was not yet clear how Ojeda Rios had died. One FBI agent was wounded in the gun battle.

The FBI said Ojeda Rios' wife, Elma Rosado Barbosa had been arrested but was released unharmed on Saturday evening, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Some independence activists suggested Ojeda Rios' death could act to unify their splintered and marginalised movement.

A helicopter by the hideout of Ojeda Rios in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico
The FBI had offered a $1m reward for the capture of Ojeda Rios

Veteran independence leader Juan Mari Bras told AP: "I always said that when they went to arrest him, they would have to kill him. I am proud of his heroism and his valour."

Independence Party President Ruben Berrios, who has criticised the violent methods of the Macheteros, said Ojeda Rios' death was a tragedy and condemned the FBI's actions as "shameful".

Early reports suggesting the death of the Macheteros leader triggered protests in San Juan, the capital of the Caribbean island.

Some 500 people blocked the city's main avenue to demonstrate against "Ojeda Rios' assassination".

"This was done on purpose... to try to humiliate us," Socialist Front president Jorge Farinacci said.

"It's to tell us 'You do not have the right to independence'."

Ojeda Rios was one of four men still wanted over the robbery at the Wells Fargo depot. The FBI doubled the reward for information leading to his capture to $1m earlier this year.

The US seized Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Puerto Ricans are US citizens but cannot vote in US presidential elections and do not pay US income tax.




SEE ALSO:
Regions and territories: Puerto Rico
14 Jul 05 |  Country profiles



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