One of the three week long blockades by environmentalists and activists along the Argentine-Uruguayan fluvial border was lifted Sunday mid day, a second is expected to follow mid night and the third could continue for an indefinite period, according to the latest news from the area.
Residents of three locations on the Argentine coast of the river Uruguay have been blocking access to bridges leading to the neighboring country in protest over the construction of a controversial pulp mill which they argue will contaminate and cause irreparable damage to the environment. The blockage at the Colon-Paysandu crossing was the first to be lifted, Sunday mid day, although protestors warned that "partial and intermittent" blocking will continue during the coming week when a new "timetable will be made public". The second crossing, Concordia/Salto is scheduled to be lifted Sunday midnight. "We've accomplished our objective", anticipated Luis Roman head of the Concordia blockade, "we cut the route during eight full days". However in Gualeguaychu, just across from Fray Bentos, where the pulp mill from Finland's Botnia is under construction, and where pickets are most radicalized having blocked access to Uruguay since last November 20, it's not clear yet what their next steps will be. The current coordinated blockade begun March 31 and coincided with what is known as Holy or Tourism week when there's an intense tourist movement in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile, with the bridges playing a crucial role for those visitors planning to drive to neighboring countries. Gualeguaychu pickets have promised a giant concentration for this Sunday on the San Martin bridge which joins the Argentine city with Fray Bentos. "We're going to show Uruguayan authorities we stand by our commitment to have the plant relocated from Fray Bentos", said Alfredo De Angeli who presides over the Gualeguaychu Environmental Public Assembly. Members from the organization tried in vain last Thursday to interrupt the ferry which links Buenos Aires with Colonia and Montevideo in Uruguay. Argentina that has reacted passively to the pickets, claims Uruguay with the Botnia-Orion plant has ignored a bilateral agreement for the joint management of the river Uruguay and has taken the case to the International Court of The Hague. Argentina also supports environmentalists' claims of future pollution from the pulp mill. Uruguay argues assessments deny such charges and has invited Argentina to integrate a joint monitoring committee. Uruguay is also demanding Argentina but before the Mercosur Disputes Tribunal for impeding the free movement of people and goods across borders. The King of Spain has offered to "facilitate efforts" to reestablish dialogue between both countries in the escalating controversy and will be hosting representatives from both countries to address the issue in the second half of April in Madrid. Uruguay all along has stated its willingness to dialogue but not negotiate until pickets are definitively lifted.
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