Protesters have demanded that state authorities scrap plans to build a billion-dollar telescope on "sacred space." But Hawaii's governor has refused and instead expanded powers for police to "ensure public safety."
Hawaii Governor David Ige on Thursday announced an "emergency proclamation" in response to thousands of protesters blocking a road to the summit of a sacred mountain over the construction of a giant telescope.
"The emergency proclamation gives law enforcement increased flexibility and authority to close more areas and restrict access on Mauna Kea," said Ige. "This will allow law enforcement to improve its management of the site and surrounding areas and ensure public safety."
Local authorities arrested at least 33 people while trying to break up the roadblock on Wednesday. "Some of the people arrested were actually related to some of the officers," protest organizer Andrew Perez told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii's largest daily newspaper.
Hawaii's Supreme Court has already approved construction of what would be the largest single telescope in the world
'Our sacred space'
Protesters, led by native Hawaiian elders, fear that the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) at the summit of Hawaii's tallest mountain — Mauna Kea — will desecrate the area.
"We are here on the slopes of Mauna Kea doing what is necessary to protect our land, our sacred space," Perez added.
Safety first, scientists say
Scientists have chosen the summit, where several telescopes are already operating, for the creation of the $1.4 billion (€1.25 billion) TMT due to consistent weather conditions and minimal light pollution.
The roadblock had also prevented other astronomers from accessing telescopes already on the mountain. Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, said that they would not continue observations on Mauna Kea until safety is ensured.
"Our science time is precious, but in this case, our priority is just to make sure all of our staff is safe," said Dempsey.
ls/jm (Reuters, AP)