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Panama government reverses controversial land sale law

Panama's government repealed a controversial week old law on Sunday which would have seen state-owned land sold in a duty-free zone along the Panama Canal.

Following a week of violent demonstrations, which saw at least three people die in protests that spread from the Atlantic port of Colon to Panama City on the Pacific, the government finally reneged on its initial proposal to sell the land to developers.

"The error has been corrected," Sergio Galvez a spokesperson for President Ricardo Martinelli's ruling party said of the decision to amend the law.

Fifty-nine parliamentarians voted for the revision, none were against it.

President Ricardo Martinelli signed the repeal decree into law on Sunday.

The government maintained land sales would generate capital for social projects in the Colon district. Protestors opposed any sale of the land.

"We have taught President Martinelli an important lesson," said Edgardo Voitier, head of the Colon Broad Front which began the protest movement. "Not everything belongs to the state can be the target of [Martinelli's] personal ambition. What belongs to the people has to be respected."

On Friday, looters raided shops and threw stones at vehicles in Panama City following demonstrations outside parliament where the Congress was debating the issue.

Police used tear gas to disperse those gathered, which resulted in the arrest of more than 200 demonstrators in Panama City near where the duty-free zone is situated.

Eleven people, including police officers and protestors were injured in the confrontation, authorities said.

jlw / XX (AP, AFP)