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Governor Attempts to Tamp Down Tensions As TMT Opponents Gather At Mauna Kea

Thirty Meter Telescope
An artist rendering of the planned location of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

Updated: July 14, 4:18 p.m.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige sought to quell rumors of a planned sweep to clear out protesters gathering at Mauna Kea as construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the mountain begins this week.

Ige told reporters at a press conference Sunday afternoon that about 200 TMT protesters had gathered for a 12-hour vigil, which started at 6 a.m. with hourly prayer sessions. They had asked for no law enforcement presence and the state has honored that, he said.

He said there are no sweeps planned for 8 p.m. this evening and no other planned sweeps. 

"I respect the right to peaceful protests. This means there's no intention to intervene by law enforcement on any activity as long as participants are behaving in a lawful manner on open public lands and abiding by lawful instruction by any law enforcement officers," the governor said.

He said the state's number one priority is keeping everyone safe.

Law enforcement officers have trained in different scenarios and prepared in various ways, but he said he could not say what provisions or equipment they have.

Although it's not clear exactly when work will begin on the telescope, those opposed to the project set up tents over the weekend along Saddle Road near the Mauna Kea Access Road to demonstrate against the construction.

The governor was asked about a letter from Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairperson Colette Machado demanding a halt to construction of the telescope. 

Ige did not speak directly about OHA but said the state has reached out to engage with protesters, but have been declined, directly and through intermediaries. He said one of the challenges is that many of the demonstrators are part of informal groups, suggesting communication with them is not easy.

But he said he remains open to conversation with different groups, if they would like to have it.

This a developing story. Please return for updates.

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