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34 arrested in protest of massive telescope on sacred Hawaiian peak  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

A total of 34 protesters have been arrested in demonstration against a $1.4 billion telescope scheduled to be constructed on top of a Hawaiian volcano that some natives consider sacred.

Police arrested 33 Hawaiian elders, or "kupuna," and one caregiver on Wednesday, said state spokesman Dan Dennison in a media teleconference Thursday. The arrest count was previously reported at 33 by state officials.

The kupuna reportedly preferred to be arrested rather than let the telescope construction proceed. Several protesters in the crowd were weeping as police took away the elderly demonstrators, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Law enforcement officers gave arrested protesters the option of being cited and released, but all of them will face a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of government operations, according to a state spokesman.

“It was pretty emotional quite frankly because some of the people who were arrested were actually related to some of the officers,” Dennison said via the Star-Advertiser. “That was the case in several cases, so it was a tough situation for everyone.”

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation due to the delays caused by the protest, which he hopes will provide law enforcement with the "tools" necessary to keep people safe and disperse the crowds at the demonstration.

“Our illustrious governor decided to abuse his powers," native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte told the Star-Advertiser after being arrested Wednesday. "This is not a volcano that is erupting or some kind of protest that is out of control."

Protests against the massive telescope's installation have been ongoing since around sunrise on Monday, when state and local officials were scheduled to close off an access road to allow trucks to embark up the dormant volcano known as Mauna Kea, thus beginning construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Protesters had other ideas: Some chained themselves to a stationary cattle grate, while others sang and chanted in opposition to the installation.

At the outset of protests Monday, one group of protesters blocked the access road to the mountain while holding a large banner that read "Road closed due to desecration."

“We have no choice,” Kaeo told the Star-Advertiser. “The state of Hawaii is treating its people like we are invisible. They will pay for their racism.”

Protests have largely been peaceful, with the first two days of demonstration going by without an arrest made. Protest leader Andre Perez reminded the droves of protesters Monday that many of the officers on site are Hawaiians as well, and that they were simply carrying out orders handed down by the state, according to the Star-Advertiser.

A petition opposing the telescope's construction and urging Gov. David Ige to halt arrests has over 70,000 signatures.

Actor Jason Momoa took to Instagram to support the protest.

Other native Hawaiians reportedly don't view the telescope as a desecration to Mauna Kea. Rather, they see it as an opportunity for scientific advancement and education.

“It’s going to be out of sight, out of mind,” said Annette Reyes, a Native Hawaiian from the Big Island via The Associated Press. 

The nonprofit company behind the Thirty Meter Telescope pledged in 2014 to give $1 million to enhance science, technology, engineering and math education in Hawaii.

The state approved construction of the telescope in June after years of controversy and legal battles.

The device would reportedly be three times as wide as the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world, and scientists say the volcano's summit would be one of the best places on Earth to study astronomy.

Some scientists say the telescope could help astronomers make significant discoveries about the universe, helping them to examine the time just after the Big Bang, according to The Associated Press. 

Mauna Kea, standing over 13,000 feet high, is a staple in Hawaiian mythology, known to some as a place of worship. The mountain is named after the Hawaiian deity "Wākea", according to the Smithsonian. 

However, several telescopes are already constructed on the mountain's summit.

Protesters have had run-in's with the construction of the telescope ever since scientists decided on the location in 2009. Construction was halted in 2015 after a series of protester-led disruptions, according to The Associated Press.

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