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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 01:13 GMT 02:13 UK
Peru's coca farmers stage protest
Crop pickers
Farmers marched towards the presidential palace
Thousands of Peruvian coca farmers have marched into the country's capital, Lima, demanding the government ends restrictions on growing the cash crop, which is used to make cocaine.

The demonstrators, who have travelled for over a week on foot from jungle areas where coca leaf is grown, are also demanding their jailed leader is freed.

The protest is part of an on-going battle between coca growers and the government, which wants farmers to grow other crops in its efforts to crack down on drug trafficking.

Last month Peru's coca growers suspended highway blockades and protests while the government worked on a new anti-drugs policy.

In the latest protest, farmers marched with flags and banners towards the presidential palace.

Lower-priced alternatives

"(We want) President Alejandro Toledo to listen to our demands and make good on his promises," said Marisela Guillen, secretary-general of the Agricultural Producers' Association of the Apurimac-Ene River Valleys.

"We don't want to be abandoned or to be maligned. We are against drug trafficking. We just want to survive."

Farmers want subsidies for lower-priced alternate crops like coffee, bananas, and cocoa, as well as an increase in the amount of coca that can be grown legally.

Most coca farmers insist they are not involved in the drugs trade and that their crops are grown for traditional Andean uses.

The farmers' leader, Nelson Palomino, was jailed in February for alleged links to outlawed guerrillas and for allegedly kidnapping a journalist.

Coca growers protest in Peru
26 Feb 03  |  Business
Bolivian farmers step up protests
23 Jan 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
04 Jan 03  |  Country profiles

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