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Guinea power protest halts RUSAL bauxite trains

CONAKRY, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Guinean townsfolk demanding mains electricity have halted trains carrying bauxite from one of Russian aluminium maker RUSAL’s operations since Monday, local people and a company official said on Tuesday.

Guinea is the world’s top exporter of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium, and RUSAL exports both the ore and refined alumina from the West African country, where most people live in poverty despite huge bauxite and iron ore reserves.

“No train has gone through since yesterday. The roads leading to the bauxite plant and the railway line for shipping out the ore are all blocked by various objects put there by angry locals,” one witness told Reuters from the town of Mambia, half way between RUSAL’s Kindia mine and the capital, Conakry.

A company spokeswoman at RUSAL’s Moscow headquarters could not be reached for immediate comment.

Demonstrations over poor public services are common in Guinea, and protests over poor electricity services often target bauxite operations as these tend to generate power for surrounding towns under their agreements with the government.

RUSAL’s Compagnie des Bauxites de Kindia (CBK) exports bauxite via rail through Mambia to Conakry’s port. RUSAL exports alumina from its Fria plant to the north via a different route.

Guinea has around one third of the world’s known bauxite reserves.

A RUSAL official in Guinea, who declined to be named, said residents of Mambia were angry at the poor public services like power and water despite a $200,000 annual payment made by RUSAL to fund improvements in local infrastructure and services.

“Mainly they are demanding electricity, but also water,” the official said.

The witness in Mambia said that despite power pylons being set up, the town had never been connected to mains electricity.

A Mines Ministry official contacted by Reuters confirmed the disturbances at Mambia but gave no details.

Disruption to bauxite operations by popular protests appears to have become more common since a general strike early last year against the aging President Lansana Conte’s authoritarian rule that halted bauxite shipments and alumina production.

At least 137 protesters were killed during the general strike, most of them shot dead by Conte’s security forces.

As well as RUSAL, U.S. aluminium company Alcoa AA.N and London-listed Rio Tinto RIO.L dig bauxite in Guinea. Rio is also majority owner of Simandou, which it says is the richest untapped iron ore deposit in the world. (Writing by Alistair Thomson; Editing by Christian Wiessner)