Peru Indian leader seeks Nicaragua exile

LIMA, Peru -- A Peruvian Indian leader charged with sedition for heading protests against Amazon development has sought refuge in Nicaragua's Embassy and is seeking asylum, the government said Monday.

Alberto Pizango led protests that erupted in violence Friday when police moved in to break up a highway blockade manned by Indians. The clashes left dozens dead, including 23 police officers.

Protest leaders accused the government of "genocide" for killing indigenous demonstrators, while the government accused the protesters of brutality and ordered Pizango's arrest for sedition.

Peruvian Cabinet chief Yehude Simon said late Monday during a special session of Congress called to discuss the deaths that Pizango had taken refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima.

Peru's state news agency quoted Nicaragua's ambassador as saying that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega would decide Tuesday whether to grant Pizango asylum.

The political violence was the Andean country's worst since the Shining Path insurgency was quelled more than a decade ago.

Indians have been blocking roads, waterways and occupying oil facilities on and off since early April, demanding the government repeal laws they say help foreign companies exploit their ancestral lands.

The government argues the laws are needed to help the poor country develop.