SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – On Tuesday, indigenous organisations in Brazil stopped a highway and set fire to tyres to protest a new rule that would restrict their ability to obtain protected status for ancestral areas.

Protesters stopped a major highway outside Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, with fire tyres and used bows and arrows to challenge police, who dispersed them with tear gas.

Indigenous organisations from throughout the nation planned a week of demonstrations outside Congress in Brasilia. The lower house was about to vote on legislation authorising Indigenous reserves solely on territory inhabited by aboriginal populations when Brazil’s Constitution was enacted in 1988.

Bill 490 would have no effect on presently recognised reserves, but it may have an influence on hundreds of regions under consideration. Following pressure from Brazil’s strong agricultural lobby, the lower house expedited the law, which seeks to eliminate land disputes between Indigenous communities and farmers and ranchers.

The establishment of a reserve provides Indigenous groups with legal safeguards that may dissuade illegal loggers and wildcat gold miners from invading their lands. Those increased under previous far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who advocated for commercial agribusiness and mining even on recognised reserves.

Indigenous leaders urge President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who beat Bolsonaro in last year’s election, to defend 300 areas that have been drawn out but have not been legally recognised. In 1988, it was unclear how many of those were inhabited.

Last month, Lula officially recognised six Indigenous regions, fulfilling a campaign vow to alter his predecessor’s approach.

Some 300 ethnic groups reside in 730 regions they see as ancestral lands, mostly in the Amazon jungle.

If the law passes the lower house, it must still be approved by the Senate and signed by Lula. He has the option to veto it, but there may be enough support in Congress to overturn it. The Supreme Court is also looking at the measure.

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