Catholic bishop tries to stop river project with hunger strike

A massive river diversion project is temporary halted because a Roman Catholic bishop organizes a hunger strike.

Judge Antonio Souza Prudente ordered the government to suspend work on the US$2 billion (1.4 billion EUR) project to divert the Sao Francisco river, Brazil's fourth largest, to help irrigate the country's arid northeast.

In an injunction issued late Monday, Prudente accepted arguments by prosecutors that the National Water Resources Council had ignored several technical criteria in approving the project. He did not mention the hunger strike in the injunction.

Bishop Luiz Flavio Cappio, who is on the 15th day of a hunger strike, said he planned to continue despite the judge's decision because the government will likely be able to have the injunction thrown out in a higher court.

"We are very happy with the decision, it is a great sign of hope but we have not arrived at the end," Cappio said in a statement. But he said he was "determined to go ahead with the fast and prayer" until the project is stopped and the army engineers leave the sites.

The National Integration Ministry, which oversees the project, said it had not seen the judge's decision and would not comment until it had.

Cappio has said he was prepared to die if the government does not stop work on the project, which critics say will do irreversible environmental damage and principally benefit large agribusiness interests and builders.

The government estimates the plan will benefit about 12 million people in the desperately poor region.

In 2005, Cappio ended a similar hunger strike after 11 days when the government promised to hold public debates on the project. He accuses the government of failing to honor its promise.

Since he began the hunger strike on Nov. 27, Cappio said he has lost over 4 kilograms (9 pounds). He continues to drink water and doctors said he was still in good health.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova