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Ecuadorean President defends oil drilling plan in Amazon national park

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has defended his government’s plan to extract oil from the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon, and said that it will affect less than 200 hectares (494 acres) of the nearly 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of the natural reserve of high biodiversity.

According to the latest calculations, the surface that may be affected by oil extraction activities may be 0.2 per thousand or one in 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres).

Correa visited the area to check on the progress of the work being done and denied that the project is going to affect 18,000 hectares (44,000 acres), as claimed by groups opposed to the plan.

In a meeting with foreign journalists in the town of Coca on Thursday, Correa questioned the protesters’ argument, saying they should say where these 18,000 hectares were.

He also defended the measures adopted to cause minimal environmental impact in the area.

The president dismissed the criticisms of those who oppose the extraction and highlighted the environmental studies and techniques used to protect jaguars, giant otters, ocelots, deer and other species that inhabit the park.

Protection measures include ecological trails, underground pipes and steps adapted for animals by joining tree tops and every other necessary environmental precaution, Correa said.

The “flare offs” of gas from oil wells, which contaminate the atmosphere with about 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, have been replaced by new techniques that prevent contamination and allow the re-use of the released gas, he added.

Correa also criticized the group Yasunidos, which filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the violation of political rights after the refusal of the Ecuadorean Constitutional Court to authorize a referendum on oil exploitation in the park.

Yasunidos organized the referendum, but the National Electoral Council declared valid only 359,761 of the 583,324 signatures needed, which was not even 5 percent of the electoral register, as required.

“They could not collect the signatures, that’s all,” said Correa, stressing that about 60 percent of the signatures were false and that there were irregularities in the referendum’s presentation.