- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) Passions flared yesterday as U.S. Navy planes began their first day of war exercises at a contested firing range on this outlying Puerto Rican island.
Five protesters were detained after they broke into restricted land leading to the target zone, and, in a separate incident, a pro-military counterdemonstrator was beaten up by a crowd of peace marchers.
Although the movement to oust the Navy from Vieques has lost support since the September 11 terrorist attacks, small bands of demonstrators launched protests over the weekend, erecting barricades and holding vigils.
Five women from the Puerto Rican Independence Party entered Navy ground hours before dawn yesterday, before planes from the USS George Washington battle group began dropping inert bombs on the eastern end of the island at 8 a.m.
An hour later, Navy military police handcuffed the five intruders, who then pumped their manacled fists in the air and shouted "Fuera la Marina!" Spanish for "Navy, get out!"
Like some of the nearly 1,000 protesters who have broken into Navy land to thwart the bombing exercises in the past two years, the women will refuse bail, be charged in federal court and serve jail sentences as part of a civil disobedience campaign, said Jorge Fernandez Porto, the Independence Party's environmental adviser.
"This civil disobedience campaign has been the single most important political factor putting political pressure on Washington and the U.S. Navy" to get the sailors to halt 60 years of bombing exercises on the island, Mr. Fernandez said.
Miles away, a pro-Navy demonstrator's knees shook with fear as he paraded an American flag before a crowd of anti-Navy militants. The group proceeded to beat up Jose Diaz, with a woman throwing the first punch.
Police pulled the crowd off Mr. Diaz and took him to the police station for his own protection, Police Col. Cesar Gracia said. He said Mr. Diaz was bleeding from a punch to the head.
Afterward, the Rev. Nelson Lopez Aponte, a Roman Catholic priest who has been an outspoken opponent of the Navy's presence on Vieques, defended the assault, saying that Mr. Diaz had "committed a grave error by having the gall to come here."

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