LIMA, Peru (AP) — Rock-throwing protesters battled riot police Wednesday after security forces fired on locals demonstrating against oil and natural gas exploration in the Peruvian Amazon. At least one person was killed by gunfire and 22 wounded, hospital officials said.
Protesters were repelled Tuesday night after entering part of a military base that is being used by the Argentine company Pluspetrol in the Junin state town of Pichanaki, police Lt. Edwin Rojas said.
He said it wasn't known who fired on the crowd. Authorities said several elite police units were on the scene, and newly arrived reinforcements boosted police strength to 1,700 on Wednesday.
The Interior Ministry said that about 500 people "violently entered" an area on the base where explosives, machinery and tents were stored and that police turned them back with tear gas.
In a separate statement, the Defense Ministry said that "no military personnel participated in the events."
A 25-year-old protester was killed by a gunshot to the abdomen and 22 people were wounded by what appeared to be shotgun pellets, said Jose Huicho, an official at Pichanaki hospital. He said 16 other civilians and two police officers were treated for other types of injuries.
The Defense Ministry said two tents were destroyed and a water pump and wood were stolen from land the army has "temporarily ceded" to Pluspetrol, the No. 1 oil and natural gas producer in Peru. The company, which has operated in Peru since 2001, said it stores seismic testing equipment on the base.
On Wednesday, protesters threw rocks at riot police in Pichanaki and the central government sent an emergency commission from Lima headed by the mining and energy minister.
Local people have been demanding for months that Pluspetrol abandon oil and natural gas exploration it began in 2012 on a tract of 1.2 million hectares (4,600 square miles) where it purchased a concession.
Their fears of contamination owe to Peru's lax environmental enforcement, including relatively low fines for violations and a recently passed law weakening the regulatory agency.
In another protest against Pluspetrol, indigenous peoples in the northern jungle state of Loreto have been occupying drilling sites since mid-January in Pastaza at Peru's biggest drilling site. They are demanding compensation for contamination.
In 2012 and 2013, environmental authorities fined Pluspetrol a total of $17.2 million for the Pastaza contamination.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.