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Protesters demand Yale return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru

LIMA, Peru --Some 3,000 townspeople from Peru's famed Inca ruins of Machu Picchu marched Tuesday through Cuzco to demand Yale University return relics taken by famed U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham nearly a century ago.

"This is a form of cultural identity for us," said Oscar Valencia, mayor of Aguas Calientes, the jungle-shrouded valley below Machu Picchu, whose residents traveled 40 miles to Cuzco to stage their peaceful protest.

"We are the legitimate heirs for having been born of this soil," Valencia told The Associated Press via telephone.

At issue is the fate of pre-colonial treasures taken from one of the world's most famous archaeological sites.

Peru demanded this fall that Yale return the artifacts, which include mummies, ceramics and human bones excavated by Bingham between 1911 and 1914.

The government in March rejected a Yale University proposal to divide thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu among museums in Peru and New Haven, and have threatened to sue the university.

Valencia said the protesters want President Alejandro Toledo to file suit and speed up the process for the return of the artifacts.

Cuzco, 315 miles southeast of Lima in the southern Andes, was the seat of the Inca empire that ruled Peru before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

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