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Chile's Bachelet says Patagonia dams not viable

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chile's leading presidential candidate, Michelle Bachelet, says she opposes the HidroAysen plan, a $7 billion project to power central Chile by damming Patagonian rivers.

Most Chileans also oppose the plans to tame two of the world's wildest rivers and build more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of power lines to the grid that powers the nation's capital. Some mass marches against the project have turned violent in energy-strapped Chile.

Bachelet, a center-leftist who ended her 2006-2010 presidency with high popularity ratings, is leading in polls ahead of the Nov. 17 presidential election.

"It's not viable. It shouldn't go on," Bachelet said late Sunday during a televised debate with other candidates who are competing to represent the center-left coalition in the elections.

With its energy-intensive mining industry demanding more power, some analysts say Chile must triple its capacity in just 15 years, despite having no domestic oil or natural gas. The dams together could generate 2.75 gigawatts, almost a third of central Chile's current capacity, within 12 years.

Chile imports most its fossil fuels and depends largely on hydropower for electricity. This creates a crisis when droughts drain reservoirs or far-away disputes affect fuel imports.

HidroAysen supporters say the project's economic benefits justify carving access roads through an area of Andean glaciers and deep green valleys and fjords and running transmission lines through national parks and private properties all the way to the capital, Santiago.