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Four activists hurt in at-sea demo

Spain's navy has rammed into a Greenpeace dinghy during a protest in the Atlantic Ocean against oil exploration near the Canary Islands, injuring four of its activists, one of them seriously, the environmental organisation said.

The navy has disputed that account, saying it dispatched two boats from one of its ships in the area to prevent Greenpeace from boarding a large oil drilling ship and that one of its activists was seriously injured when she fell out of her dinghy and was hit by its propellers.

Speaking by radio-telephone from Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in the area, Captain Joel Stewart identified the woman as a 23-year-old Italian activist and said the other three other injuries were minor. The navy said it rushed the activist to a Spanish hospital in a helicopter.

In Madrid, lawmaker Diego Lopez Garrido of Spain's main opposition Socialist party, said he would call defence minister Pedro Morenes to parliament to explain the navy's actions.

Last month, at the Spanish government's request, the Constitutional Court blocked a proposal by the Canary Islands regional government to hold a referendum on oil exploration in waters off the popular tourist archipelago off northwestern Africa.

Some residents fear that oil spills could damage their islands, which are one of Europe's major tourism magnets and home to an important fishing industry.

The government licensed the Spanish energy company Repsol YPF SA to begin oil exploration there, and it is doing that now from a large oil drilling ship with a platform.

The navy also dispatched a frigate to the area where the Reposal facility is due to operate.

Greenpeace geologist Julio Barea said today that he believes its oil exploration could cause "grave" environmental damage around the islands.

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