|Police opened fire on protesters who tried to seize control of an airport [AFP/DIARIO LOS ANDES/HO]|
The government of Peru has halted a Canadian-owned silver mine project in the southern highlands after at least four people were killed when police fired on protesters opposing the project.
At least 24 other people were injured on Friday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators who tried to seize control of an airport near the city of Juliaca in Puno state.
An estimated 1,000 protesters, mostly local Aymara Indian farmers, were dispersed by about 100 police at Inca Manco Capac international airport.
Three of the dead, including a protester and a passerby watching the scene, died from gunshot wounds, Percy Casaperalta, a Juliaca hospital doctor, told the AFP news agency.
All were civilians, but the cause of death for the fourth remained unclear.
Protesters have paralysed the area with road blockades since May 9 in an attempt to cancel the Santa Ana mine, as well as a proposed hydroelectric project on the Inambari river.
They are demanding an end to all mining activity and oil drilling in Puno province, one of the poorest in Peru.
Protesters also reportedly attacked a police station and a state bank in a second city.
Miguel Hidalgo, the country’s interior minister, told reporters in the capital, Lima that police in Azangaro, about 68km from Juliaca, were “in a difficult situation”.
Local radio reports said about 500 protesters angry over the deaths at the airport burned tyres and threw rocks at the local police station and a state bank.
Mine authorisation ‘repealed’
Hours after the clashes, Fernando Gala, the deputy mining minister, announced that the government had revoked a 2007 decree granting approval to the British Columbia-based Bear Creek Mining Corp to mine silver at Santa Ana.
The decree was required because the mine site is within 80km of an international border, Bolivia.
“It has been agreed to repeal the authorisation,” Yohny Lescano, a politician who participated in a government dialogue on Thursday with protesters over the Santa Ana project, said.
Andrew Swarthout, Bear Creek’s director, told the Associated Press news agency that the company had not received formal notification that the decree had been revoked.
He said any government attempt to cancel the project would be illegal and amount to “expropriation”.
“We followed all the rules. We got public consent. We’re in the middle of an environmental impact statement. It was due process. Everything was within the letter of the law,” Swarthout said.
Protesters have expressed fears that the company would pollute the water in its effort to separate silver, and an environmental impact statement is under government review.
The outgoing government of President Alan Garcia announced after leftist candidate Ollanta Humala won the presidential election June 5 that it was scrapping a proposed hydroelectric project on the Inambari river.
In April, it cancelled a copper mining project in another southern state after three protesters died in clashes with police.