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Indigenous leader among 53 defendants in trial over Bagua massacre

FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2010, file photo, Peru's Amazon leader Alberto Pizango looks on during an act after announcing his candidacy for Peru's 2011 presidential elections in Lima, Peru. Pizango and 52 others went on trial Wednesday in the killing of a dozen police officers after security forces fired on protesters opposed to plans to open the Amazon to widespread logging and oil drilling. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)

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FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2010, file photo, Peru's Amazon leader Alberto Pizango looks on during an act after announcing his candidacy for Peru's 2011 presidential elections in Lima, Peru. Pizango and 52 others went on trial Wednesday in the killing of a dozen police officers after security forces fired on protesters opposed to plans to open the Amazon to widespread logging and oil drilling. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)

LIMA, Peru - The leader of Peru's main indigenous group and 52 others went on trial Wednesday in the killing of a dozen police officers after security forces fired on protesters opposed to plans to open the Amazon to widespread logging and oil drilling.

In all, 22 police officers and 10 civilians were killed in the 2009 bloodletting at a stretch of highway known as Devil's Curve near the city of Bagua when authorities tried to break up a road blockade. At least 200 protesters were wounded by gunfire in the attack, and some of the police were killed with spears in the resulting clash.

Alberto Pizango, president of the AIDESEP federation, is among seven indigenous leaders on trial. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is innocent of the murder charges filed against him and did not order any act of violence.

The defendants include Feliciano Cahuasa, a 33-year-old Awajun native who has been jailed since the June 5, 2009 incident.

The presiding judge, Gonzalo Zabarburu, denied a defence motion on Wednesday to compel Alan Garcia, who was president at the time, and three of his then-Cabinet ministers to explain in court why the government ordered police to open fire.

The protesters had been blocking the highway in Bagua for more than a month to protest a government decree that opened up the Amazon to extractive industries and logging without the prior consent of indigenous groups. The decree was later rescinded.

Another trial is planned for civilians accused of executing 10 police officers after taking them hostage at a nearby an oil-pumping station.

A number of police officers are also under investigation for alleged excesses and could face criminal charges.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.

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