Peruvian Indian leader, accused of sedition over protests, sets sights on run for presidency

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian protest leader facing rebellion charges stemming from deadly clashes last year announced Wednesday that Amazon Indians are looking to form their own political party, and he may be its presidential candidate.

Aidesep, an umbrella group representing 65 tribes across the Peruvian jungle, is collecting signatures to register the new party and could pick a candidate as soon as September for next April's election, said Alberto Pizango, a Shawi Indian who is the group's president.

"If the people propose that I be the political figure who can carry forward their grand ideals, their grand proposals, their grand projects, I will accept" the nomination," Pizango said.

The new party is to be known as the Alternative Alliance of Humanity. It also intends to field congressional candidates.

Authorities accuse Pizango of instigating violence during June 2009 protests against decrees designed to spur oil and gas exploration on indigenous ancestral lands. When police moved in to break up a road blockade, the ensuing clashes killed 23 police officers and 10 civilians, according to government figures.

Charged with sedition and rebellion, Pizango fled the following month to Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega's government granted him political asylum.

Pizango returned to Peru voluntarily in May and was promptly detained, then freed pending trial. He is also accused of kidnapping and weapons possession.

He told reporters Wednesday that the tribes decided to enter electoral politics because the established parties are not paying attention to their demands, or in some cases use Indians for campaign purposes only to ignore them after the vote.

"This political party has a 50-year plan — that is, we are not just thinking about the coming elections," Pizango said. "Rather, this is a political party that intends to embrace all those citizens of the country who are devoted to doing something to defend the life of the forests, nature and our planet Earth."

Indigenous groups accuse President Alan Garcia's government of defending the interests of big energy companies to the detriment of the Amazon.

Government officials say gas and oil finds would help lift Peru out of poverty.

There was no immediate comment by the government on Pizango's announcement.