Peruvian anti-mining protesters clash with police

Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:40pm EST

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By Marco Aquino and Terry Wade

LIMA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Police clashed with anti-mining protesters in two Peruvian regions on Thursday, the first time violence has broken out since President Ollanta Humala took office in July promising to defuse social tensions.

The clashes could mark a setback for the popular leader, who is trying to mediate more than 200 environmental conflicts nationwide that often pit rural towns against mining and oil companies with $50 billion in projects planned in Peru for the next decade.

In the northern region of Ancash, police fired tear gas to clear the Pan-American Highway, which protesters blocked to draw attention to what they say is pollution caused by mining.

Protesters also temporarily invaded a pumping station of a mining duct outside Antamina, one of the world's top copper-zinc mines, a company official said. Protesters vandalized property but there were no injuries and production was not impacted, the official added.

Antamina is owned by global firms BHP Billiton Ltd , Xstrata , Teck Cominco Ltd and Mitsubishi Corp .

In the southern region of Apurimac, protesters also scuffled with police. Agriculture Minister Miguel Caillaux said the government was willing to restrict wildcat mining and illegal mining near rivers to prevent pollution, but refused to ban mining altogether, angering protesters. Police shot canisters of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Global miner Xstrata , which was not targeted in the protest, has said it would begin building its $4.2 billion Las Bambas copper project in Apurimac this year.

Humala has said he wants to see big mining projects, which would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the government, go forward.

But he has also pushed companies to do more to win the support of rural towns near mines.

Humala has obtained approval for two bills in Congress that aim to calm tensions in Peru, where one-third of people live in poverty.

One requires firms to consult with local communities about mining and oil projects proposed near their lands before beginning construction, while the other raised taxes and royalties on miners to fund infrastructure and social programs.

Thursday's clashes came weeks after he temporarily settled a vexing conflict over one of Southern Copper's mining projects.

His government also managed to ensure a protest on Wednesday against Newmont's $4.8 billion Conga project was peaceful, partly because the government calmed tensions by saying it would working with the company to set up a "social fund" to finance community projects.

While rural towns have protested, most unions have refrained from calling strikes during Humala's three months in office -- except at Freeport McMoRan's Cerro Verde mine, where the government has been trying to broker a wage deal to end a strike that has dragged on for more than a month.

The mine churns out 2 percent of global copper supply, but the strike has not markedly impacted copper prices and the mine has said it is running at two-thirds of capacity.

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