Hawaii expands power to block telescope protesters

Read the governor’s emergency proclamation following TMT arrests

And on Hawaii's Big Island, police arrested 33 people Wednesday-most of them Hawaiian elders-as they blocked a road to prevent construction crews from reaching the site of a massive telescope being planned atop the Mauna Kea volcano.

Protest leader Kealoha Pisciotta told The Associated Press that police took away about 30 elders who were prepared to be arrested.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday giving law enforcement agencies the power to close off areas and restrict access on Mauna Kea.

Demonstrators gather to block a road at the base of Hawaii's tallest mountain, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to protest the construction of a giant telescope on land that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred. He's back at the base of Mauna Kea, and says he won't block the road again today.

East Asian Observatory Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey said in a statement Tuesday the existing observatories made a joint decision to withdraw personnel from their telescopes at the summit.

Authorities didn't arrest anyone, saying their priority was installing concrete barriers along a nearby highway to create a buffer between speeding cars and the large numbers of people congregating in the area.

Most of the cultural practices on the mountain take place away from the summit, said Annette Reyes, a Native Hawaiian from the Big Island.

Kaho'okahi Kanuha, another protest leader, told reporters that efforts to stop the telescope were about protecting Hawaii's Indigenous people.

Officials closed the road to the top of the mountain starting this week to allow construction to begin, attracting hundreds of protesters who formed their own roadblocks. "We chose to gather here as of last night to come here and stand for Mauna Kea".

Some Native Hawaiians say the project will desecrate sacred land. Dozens of researchers from around the globe won't be able to gather data and study the sky. She said she was arrested for obstruction of a government road but later returned to the blockade.

Reyes said there are many others like her, but they're reluctant to publicly support the telescope because of bullying from protesters, a group she calls a "vocal minority".

People also took to the streets Wednesday throughout the Hawaiian islands, including outside the State Capitol and on Maui, to peacefully protest the project.

A group of existing telescopes sit atop Mauna Kea and have been used by NASA and other scientists to make discoveries about space for decades.

Science was an integral part of ancient Hawaiian lives, Reyes said.

"The safety of everyone on the mountain, (observatory staff), law enforcement and protesters is of paramount importance to us", Dempsey said.

Opponents have fought the telescope for years but the way was cleared for construction to start after the state Supreme Court upheld the project's permit last October.

The construction was finally slated to start this week after drawn-out legal battles between opponents and developers.

The consortium behind the TMT observatory includes astronomers from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Japan, India and Canada.

Doug Ing, an attorney for the Thirty Meter Telescope, said the latest lawsuit has no merit and is another delay tactic.

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