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REFILE-Brazil's protesting bishop suspends hunger strike

(Adds dropped word in paragraph six)

SAO PAULO, Dec 20 (Reuters) - A Brazilian Roman Catholic bishop on a hunger strike for 23 days to protest against an irrigation project ended his fast on Thursday after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said construction will go forward.

Brazil's largest public works venture is set to pump water from the Sao Francisco River through 435 miles (700 km) of canals to people and farms in the arid and poor northeast, where Lula was born.

Bishop Luiz Cappio, hospitalized since Wednesday, "decided to interrupt the fasting, but not the fight," said Adriano Martins, an assistant to the bishop.

The 61-year-old cleric began the hunger strike on Nov. 27 in a bid to block the project that he and other critics say is too expensive and would benefit wealthy landowners more than poor peasants.

Environmentalists fear reducing the river's level could affect navigability, fish migration and biodiversity.

Lula told journalists on Thursday that the bishop's protest was not going to change the government's plans, saying the project would bring water to 12 million people.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court overruled a federal judge who last week questioned the government's authority for land and water use and ordered construction to halt.

The court also rejected challenges to the project's environmental permit.

The venture will cost up to 6.5 billion reais ($3.7 billion) and construction, which began in March, will take years. (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Inae Riveras; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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