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Leader of Indian protests against oil work in Peru's Amazon detained upon return from exile

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Indian leader Alberto Pizango was detained Wednesday upon arrival in Peru's capital from Nicaragua, where he fled 11 months ago to avoid charges over violent protests against proposed oil and gas exploration in the Amazon.

The protest leader was taken into custody at the airport and whisked to a police station. He was accompanied on the flight by U.S actress Q'orianka Kilcher, whose father is a Peruvian Indian. Neither Pizango nor Kilcher spoke to the press.

Before leaving Nicaragua, which granted him political asylum, Pizango told state media that he had decided to return because "I think that I have waited too long and will make this enormous sacrifice that has cost me and is costing me so much."

Pizango fled to Nicaragua last July after Peruvian authorities charged him with sedition and rebellion for allegedly instigating violence during protests the previous month in the jungle city of Bagua. The clashes killed 23 police officers and 10 civilians, according to government figures.

The violence erupted when police moved in to break up a road blockade manned by protesters opposed to decrees by President Alan Garcia's government designed to spur oil and gas exploration on indigenous ancestral lands.

On Wednesday, groups of Pizango's supporters and opponents gathered outside Lima's international airport to greet his arrival.

His supporters shouted "Garcia guilty! Pizango freedom!"

Opponents of Pizango accused the indigenous leader of instigating the violence and called for his prosecution.

"He must be held accountable for the deaths of our family members," said Ronnie Garcia, a relative of one of the policemen killed in Bagua.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had urged Garcia to guarantee Pizango's safety and not imprison him.

Garcia replied Wednesday that "here we respect rights."

Indigenous groups criticize the government for not consulting them about Amazon exploration plans and sending in police to break up the road blockade. Government officials say the oil and gas finds would help lift Peru out of poverty.