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Court orders work stop at Brazil's 11.2-GW Belo Monte

A Brazilian federal court has ordered the immediate stoppage of work at the country's 11.2-GW Belo Monte hydroelectric project, saying that indigenous people have not been properly consulted.

The Belo Monte hydropower plant -- located along the Xingu River in the country's Para State -- was approved by the Brazilian congress in 2005.

Construction of the controversial project then began in 2010, when a consortium led by Norte Energia was awarded a US$17 billion contract for its construction.

A regional federal judge ruled that this decision was illegal, however, prompting the most recent suspension.

"The legislation requires consultation prior to a decision by congress, and what we have is an attempt after that fact," Regional Federal Judge Souza Prudente says. "Congress made a mockery and acted as if it were in a dictatorship, putting the cart before the horse."

The decision was based on the Brazilian constitution and ILO Convention 169, which says congress could only authorize the use of water resources for hydroelectric projects after an independent assessment of environmental impacts and subsequent consultations with affected indigenous peoples.

As such, congress must consult with the indigenous peoples -- particularly the Juruna, Arara and Xikrin tribes -- before resuming construction. Should Norte Energia refuse to comply, it will be fined about $250,000 per day.

"The court's decision highlights the urgent need for the Brazilian government and congress to respect the federal constitution and international agreements on our consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that put their livelihoods and territories at risk," Souza says.

Belo Monte's developers are expected to appeal the decision in the Brazilian Supreme Court.

HydroWorld.com reported in April that another work stoppage -- this one caused by labor disputes -- had also brought work at Belo Monte to a standstill.

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