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9 companies win bid for huge Amazon dam project

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Authorities say a consortium of nine companies has won the rights for one of the world's largest hydroelectric dam projects.

Brazil's electricity regulator Aneel says the Norte Energia consortium won the bidding process for the huge Amazon dam which is heavily opposed by environmentalists, Indians and the director of "Avatar."

The consortium is led by state-controlled Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco.

The bidding for the Belo Monte dam was halted three times before a final appeal by the government allowed the auction's winner to be announced on Tuesday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A Brazilian judge on Tuesday suspended the bidding process on one of the world's largest hydroelectric dam projects for a third time.

Judge Antonio Carlos Almeida ruled in favor of an environmental organization that claims the project would cause serious social and environmental damages.

Bidding had started Tuesday after another judge overturned a previous suspension, but the new ruling kept the results from being announced.

Brazil's government is sure to appeal the new decision, which could delay construction on the huge Amazon dam opposed by environmentalists, Indians and the director of "Avatar."

The planned $11 billion, 11,000-megawatt dam, to be constructed on the Xingu River feeding the Amazon, would be the third-largest such hydroelectric project in the world.

The bidding had been suspended for a second time late Monday, but the Brazilian government appealed and the auction started as planned. A winner was selected, but the result was not announced because of the new court ruling in favor of the Amigos da Terra environmental organization.

Movie director James Cameron has lobbied to stop the project, visiting Brazil's Indians and even comparing their struggle against the dam to the plot of his blockbuster movie "Avatar."

"Avatar" depicts a fictitious Na'vi race fighting to protect its homeland, the forest-covered moon Pandora, from plans to extract its resources.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups say Belo Monte would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insists that the dam is essential, and says it will provide clean and renewable energy to feed increasing demand.

Opponents organized protests across Brazil on Tuesday to condemn the project. Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based group that works to protect the rain forest and the indigenous people living there, said thousands of people are engaging in coordinated protests in nine cities, including in Altamira, which would be partially flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir.

The group said boats full of indigenous people began arriving to establish a permanent village to block the dam's construction.

Indigenous people joined by Greenpeace also partially blocked the entrance of Aneel, Brazil's electricity regulator, where the bidding took place.

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Associated Press Writer Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.