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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 03:13 GMT
Brazil bishop ends hunger strike
Bishop Luiz Flavio Cappio being taken to hospital, 19 December 2007
Bishop Cappio collapsed on Wednesday
A Brazilian bishop protesting against a major river diversion scheme has ended a 24-day hunger strike.

Dom Luiz Flavio Cappio "decided to interrupt the fasting, but not the fight", his assistant said.

The bishop wants to halt a project to divert waters from South America's fourth largest river, saying it will cause lasting environmental damage.

But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Thursday: "There is no way the government will give in."

The government says more than 12 million people in Brazil's arid north-east will benefit from the project on the Sao Francisco river.

The project had been halted after a lower court had suspended work over alleged irregularities in the approval of the $2bn (1bn) project.

But on Wednesday the Supreme Court overturned that ruling by a margin of six votes to three.

President Lula, a keen proponent of the scheme, said: "The project will go ahead."

However, the Supreme Court has to make a further ruling, which could yet halt the plan.

Safety factor

Bishop Cappio, 61, had began his hunger strike on 27 November.

He was taken to hospital in the city of Petrolina on Wednesday after losing consciousness, prompting increasing worries over his health.
Aerial view of the Sao Francisco river at Sobradinho
The bishop's chapel is in Sobradinho on the banks of the Sao Francisco

On Thursday, local indigenous groups came to the clinic where Bishop Cappio was being treated to sing and dance in a show of support for him.

Both the Vatican and the Brazilian Council of Bishops had been in negotiations with the bishop in an attempt to end his protest, citing his own safety as a factor.

The bishop's decision to call off his hunger strike was announced in a letter read out at an emotional mass in the village of Sobradinho, not far from the river at the centre of the controversy.

Bishop Cappio, who had just been released from hospital, did not speak but sat on a chair placed by the altar at the outdoor mass, the BBC's Gary Duffy reports from Petrolina.

A letter read out on his behalf said he accepted the concerns of his friends and all those involved in the protest and the most important thing was to keep fighting against the river diversion project.

The announcement was greeted with prolonged applause.

The irrigation project would bring water through 700km (435 miles) of canals to people and farmers in the north-eastern region of the country.

Environmental activists say the project would badly affect biodiversity and possibly the navigability of the river.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court disagreed and said the project could proceed.

But the court did not rule on the alleged irregularities in the project's approval process, and work on the dam can only go ahead until the court decides on the merits of the case at a later date.

If the court decides against the plan, it could be shelved for a second time.

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SEE ALSO
Brazilian bishop in hunger strike
06 Dec 07 |  Americas
Brazil bishop protest wins delay
07 Oct 05 |  Americas
End protest, Brazil bishop urged
03 Oct 05 |  Americas
Brazil bishop makes river protest
29 Sep 05 |  Americas



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