CHILE

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Chilean sky is overcast with thunderheads of controversy. Lawyers, scientists and landowners are slugging it out with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) - an 8-state venture by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland, to grab control of the site at Paranal in the Atacama desert, where the world's largest telescope is to be installed.

ESO claims that it has been developing the, land since 1988, when it was handed the area by the then ruling Pinochet regime. In 1992, the group received a rude jolt when a mob of angry claimants swore that the land was rightfully theirs and they had to be paid for it. Chilean lawyers acting on their behalf set the value at us $5 million: Eso now claims that it has not known a moment's peace ever since. Demonstrators have repeatedly held up work. Even a posse of policemen descended last February to "inspect the site", thus grossly violating diplomatic immunity, says the local director, Daniel Hofsstadt.

Faced with disgruntled ESO men threatening to pack up and leave, the government finally decided to intervene. On April 18, it signed an agreement offering a new deal, guaranteeing ESO',s diplomatic status and also taking on the task of dealing with the landowners.

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