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Peru mining demos turn deadly

July 5, 2012

Four people are dead and many more injured following protests over a proposed gold mine in Peru. A series of anti-mining protests has seen the government impose a state of emergency three times in the last year.

Some protesters during the march for peace and development in Cajamarca, Peru, May 29, 2012. March for peace in Cajamarca after clashes caused by opposition to the mining project Conga.
Peru Proteste in CajamarcaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A state of emergency has been declared in northern Peru's Cajamarca province and two neighboring provinces. The protests, which surround the US-based company Newmont Mining Co.'s gold mining project, have left four dead and many more injured.

On Wednesday, one protester was killed and Marco Arana, a 49-year-old former Roman Catholic priests and prominent anti-mining activist, was arrested and claims to have been beaten by local police. "In the police station they hit me again, punches in the face, kidneys, insults," he wrote on Twitter.

A photo of Marco Arana
Activist Marco Arana, arrested on Wednesday, claims to have been beaten by policeImage: TV Cultura

Chief local prosecutor Johnny Diaz told The Associated Press that he had designated a prosecutor to investigate Arana's claim. Diaz said Arana was arrested for organizing meetings, which is prohibited during a state of emergency.

Human rights groups called Arana's detention part of a harsh crackdown by President Ollanta Humala. It is the third time he has suspended civil liberties in the country since taking office a year ago.

Arana's arrest comes a day after three people were killed during violence in the Cajamarca region, including a 17-year-old. The regional health inspector said two of those killed died of gunshot wounds to the head.

Local media reported that more than 1,000 protesters threw stones at government offices in the town of Celendin. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, suspending freedom of assembly to stop the clashes.

Largest gold mine in South America

The $4.8 million Conga gold mining project, of which Newmont owns a majority stake, is set to replace and outsize the current Yanacocha mine, already the biggest gold mine in South America. Local residents believe the mine will hurt their water supplies, polluting lakes and rivers.

Peru's President Ollanta Humala gives a news conference during a break in the Americas Summit in Cartagena April 14, 2012. Heads of state are meeting in the city from April 14-15.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala allowed the Conga gold mine to proceed last monthImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The project was initially approved by former Peruvian President Alan Garcia. Humala announced that the project would be allowed to proceed late last month. Opponents, backed by Cajamarca's provincial president Gregorio Santos, vowed not to let it proceed.

Construction is set to begin in 2014.

Ongoing protests

It is the second time in the last five weeks a state of emergency has been declared in the country. In May, a 30-day state of emergency was declared after two people were killed following a copper mine protests in near Cuzco.

epa03242640 Espinar's major Oscar Mollohuanca (C) is escorted by police agents as he is detained in Cuzco, Peru, 30 May 2012. Mollohuanca supports protests in Espinar against Swiss mining company Xstrata, after ten days of a general strike called by social organizations.
Espinar Province Mayor Oscar Mollohuanca was arrested during protests over a copper mine last May in CuzcoImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Interior Minister Wilver Calle said that police opened fire on the protestors in self defense. Calle claimed 30 police officers were hurt in the violence, calling the protestors "extremists who are attacking police authority."

Protestors claimed that the copper mine contaminated local water supplies and sickened farm animals. A study commissioned by the local Catholic church last year found high levels of pollutants in the soil and water.

dr/mz (AP, Reuters, AFP)