Brazil Amazon campaigners occupy Belo Monte dam

Caiapo indigenous men demonstrating on the road leading to the construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam Indigenous groups have been protesting against the project for years

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Hundreds of campaigners occupied the construction site of the Belo Monte dam project in the Brazilian Amazon.

The protesters want work on the multi-billion dollar dam stopped, arguing that it will displace thousands of indigenous people and damage the environment.

The protesters, many from indigenous groups, left the site after several hours following a judge's order.

The government says the project is crucial to meeting energy needs.

The Indian Missionary Council (Cimi), an organisation backed by the Catholic Church, said more than 600 Indians, fishermen and locals occupied the site and the road leading to it.

Cimi called on the government to send representatives to negotiate with the indigenous groups, who they say would suffer from the building of the dam.

"In the face of the government's intransigence and its insistence on disrespecting us, we now occupy the Belo Monte construction site and block access to it from the Transamazon highway," Cimi said on its website.

A judge subsequently issued an order for the demonstrators to leave, which they agreed to respect.

"We left as peacefully as we entered. It was a peaceful protest to draw attention to this project that spells death for the Amazon," Cimi spokesman Eden Magalhaes told the AFP news agency.

Legal battle

Building work on the dam was halted last month after a judge ruled against it on environmental grounds, but the construction of accommodation blocks for the project's workers was allowed to continue.

Judge Carlos Castro Martins barred any work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river.

He ruled in favour of a fisheries group which argued that the Belo Monte dam would affect local fish stocks and could harm indigenous families who make a living from fishing.

Judge Martins barred the Norte Energia company behind the project from "building a port, using explosives, installing dikes, building canals and any other infrastructure work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river, thereby affecting local fish stocks".

He said the building of canals and dykes could have negative repercussions for river communities living off small-scale fishing.

The consortium behind the project is expected to appeal against the decision.

In June, the Brazilian environment agency backed the construction, dismissing concerns by environmentalists and indigenous groups who argue that it will harm the world's largest tropical rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people.

The agency, Ibama, said the dam had been subjected to "robust analysis" of its impact on the environment.

The 11,000-megawatt dam would be the third biggest in the world - after the Three Gorges in China, and Itaipu, which is jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay.

Map showing Belo Monte dam proposals

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