Indigenous protesters in Brazil agreed on Tuesday to suspend their roadblock of a key highway amid a court battle but vowed to fight on for more help against COVID-19 and an end to deforestation.
Brandishing bows and wearing traditional feather headdresses and body paint, dozens of protesters from the Kayapo Mekranoti ethnic group had been blocking highway BR-163 through the Amazon rainforest since Monday morning.
The highway is an important artery for farmers in Brazil's agricultural heartland to ship corn and soybeans, two of the country's main exports, to the river ports of the Amazon and beyond.
On Monday night, a federal judge ordered the protesters to end the roadblock, citing the damage to the region's economy. She ordered federal highway police to remove the blockade if necessary.
The protesters initially vowed to defy the order, but lifted their roadblock on Tuesday afternoon.
They said they were only removing the blockade temporarily, to help the truck drivers who had been forced to form a long line overnight outside the town of Novo Progresso, in the northern state of Para.
The truck drivers did not have the means to remain there indefinitely, a spokeswoman for the group, Maria Benavides, said.
The protesters insisted they were not bowing to the judge's order, and vowed to renew their roadblock when they received formal notification from the court. They are demanding talks with government authorities on their grievances.
The highway, which was built during Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985) to develop the Amazon region, was fully paved earlier this year. The protesters say the project damaged the surrounding environment, and are demanding compensation.
They also want more help from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit especially hard among native groups.
In Brazil, 21,000 indigenous people have been infected and 618 have died of COVID-19, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB).
Brazil has the second-highest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States: more than 3.3 million and 108,000, respectively.
The protesters are also demanding the government act to stop encroachments on their land by illegal gold miners and deforestation in the Amazon, blamed mainly on farming and ranching.
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