Protesters clash with soldiers at Ghana gold mining town

The clashes come as hundreds remain trapped in mining pits, unable or unwilling to resurface out of fear of arrest.

Heavily armed soldiers have fired shots to disperse protesters in the gold mining town of Obuasi, in the Ashanti region of Ghana, amid an army crackdown on miners whom the government sees as illegal.

Authorities arrested seven illegal miners on Monday for exiting a shaft belonging to one of the world’s largest gold miners, AngloGold, according to the company.

Reports then trickled in on Tuesday that hundreds of other miners were trapped underground. It was unclear whether those still underground were unable or reluctant to get out.

Relatives said the miners had been trapped for days without food or water. Dozens who got out were arrested for operating illegally in the area, their families told Al Jazeera, adding that police were requesting cash payments to release them.

“My husband is one of those who are trapped,” a woman who declined to give her name told Al Jazeera. “There is no other job in the area so we depend on mining for a living.”

The woman said police were demanding $2,700 per person for their release.

One man told Al Jazeera that those who were still underground could be heard screaming. “They are dying!” he said. “What’s wrong with people going to work to try and make ends meet?”

AngloGold said in a statement on Tuesday that “unauthorised persons underground are able to exit.”

“No person underground has been confined in any way and the main exit ramp from the mine remains open,” it said, according to AFP.

Clashes break out

On Tuesday, residents began gathering outside the local police station, chanting, burning car tyres and blocking roads.

The town’s mayor, Faustina Amissah, confirmed that soldiers had been deployed.

“It was becoming chaotic, so the security officers did what was lawful to maintain peace,” she said, adding that protesters had “vandalised a bus carrying 52 suspects to the police station”.

A local journalist sent footage to AFP showing heavily armed soldiers on the streets of Obuasi and said he had to “take cover”.

Neither the police nor the military have issued any comments.

Illicit mining is widespread in the West African country, where many in poor communities see it as a way of making a living.

Since taking office in 2017, President Nana Akufo-Addo has promised to rid the country of “galamsey”, the name given by locals to illegal mining.

The authorities regularly crack down on illegal sites, taking away excavators, but still, the practice continues.

The Obuasi mine, which extends up to 1,500 metres (almost 5,000 feet) beneath the surface, produced 250,000 troy ounces (7,776kg) of gold last year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies