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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- President Tabare Vazquez held a
nationally televised briefing to defend two wood pulp plants being
built in Uruguay that have provoked protests in neighboring
Argentina, declaring the mills environmentally sound.
The televised meeting late at the presidential offices, which
included 250 guests, marked Uruguay's staunchest defense yet of the
pulp mills in months of bitter feuding with Argentina.
Protesters and environmentalists claim the two plants being built
just across the Uruguay River will pollute Argentine farmlands and
damage tourism along the river. Uruguay insists the project -- the
biggest investment in the nation's history -- is environmentally
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner held his own "town hall" style
meeting May 5 near his country's border with Uruguay to voice growing
dissent with the project, saying he awaited an environmental study
proving it would not pollute the border river.
But in his televised briefing, Vazquez defended the two sprawling
plants being built near Fray Bentos, Uruguay, saying they would count
on state-of-the-art technology.
He said any pollution would remain within internationally
acceptable limits and that his country wasn't handing the French and
Spanish consortiums in the project a "blank check."
Applauded as he spoke in the Liberty Building housing the
executive branch, Vazquez also said his small South American country
has always insisted on "dialogue" to peacefully settle disputes.
Argentina and Uruguay have been feuding for months over Uruguay's
plans for the two plants, which are expected to create hundreds of
jobs and pump millions of dollars (euros) annually into the economy.
"Uruguay has always embraced dialogue, peaceful discussions and
responsible negotiations," Vazquez said.
He spoke in the seat of executive power before 250 guests,
including government representatives, political party chiefs and
heads of social organizations.
Outside, some 300 people protested against the pulp mill projects,
kept back from the building behind police barricades.
The two pulp mills are being built for a total of $1.8 billion
(1.42 billion euros) -- the biggest investment project in the history
of Uruguay. One of the plants is being built by Finnish consortium
Metsa-Botnia Oy and the second by Spain's Grupo Empresarial ENCE.
Earlier, Argentina announced it had filed a claim against Uruguay
before the International Court of Justice at the Hague, arguing that
Uruguay didn't provide enough time for a thorough environmental
The pulp mill feud has damaged traditionally warm ties between the
two nations. Meanwhile, Uruguayan officials claimed months of
blockades of bridges on the border earlier this year by Argentine
protesters caused it some $400 million (317 million euros) in damages
from lost trade.
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