Guatemala declares emergency in four towns to quell mining protests

GUATEMALA CITY Thu May 2, 2013 10:00pm EDT

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina (C) arrives for the inauguration of a new military detachment in Ciudad Quetzal, on the outskirts of Guatemala City April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina (C) arrives for the inauguration of a new military detachment in Ciudad Quetzal, on the outskirts of Guatemala City April 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez

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GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala declared an emergency in four southeastern towns on Thursday, suspending citizens' constitutional rights in an area where deadly protests over a proposed silver mine have erupted in recent weeks.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez announced the move in an effort to quell protests targeting the mine belonging to Canadian miner Tahoe Resources Inc. Two people have been killed in the demonstrations.

The company's security guards shot and wounded six demonstrators on Saturday, said Mauricio Lopez, Guatemala's security minister.

The next day, protesters, who say the Escobal silver mine near the town of San Rafael Las Flores will contaminate local water supplies, kidnapped 23 police officers, Lopez said.

One police officer and a demonstrator were killed in a shootout on Monday when police went to free the hostages, said Lopez.

"I am not going to allow this to continue," Perez told reporters. "We have conducted a six-month investigation in this area with the attorney general's office for various criminal activities."

Police and military raided the four towns on Thursday, arresting 15 people suspected of kidnapping, weapons theft and destruction of private property.

Tahoe said in a statement it regretted the injuries to protesters caused by rubber bullets, but denied any responsibility for the deaths.

"Our investigation has shown that only non-lethal measures were taken by our security," the company said.

The 30-day "state of emergency" will suspend citizens' rights to bear arms and assemble peacefully. It also gives authorities the power, without a warrant, to search residents suspected of crimes.

Mining in Guatemala accounts for about 2 percent of gross domestic product. The country's largest gold mine, the Marlin mine owned by Canada's Goldcorp Inc, is expected to produce up to 200,000 ounces this year.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Mike McDonald; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Peter Cooney)

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