LA PAZ, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Bolivia’s government and protest leaders said on Sunday they were close to a deal to end demonstrations in the poor South American nation that forced the closure of two of the world’s top silver deposits.
More than two weeks of protests over infrastructure in the mineral-rich Potosi region have hurt the mainstay mining industry in Bolivia, a major global producer of zinc, silver, tin and lead, in a major challenge for leftist President Evo Morales.
Coeur D’Alene’s (CDE.N) San Bartolome mine, the world’s largest pure silver mine, has been shut down for two weeks after workers joined the protests that blockaded the city of Potosi.
Sumitomo’s (8053.T) silver-zinc-lead San Cristobal mine was forced to stop processing ore after some demonstrators threatened to cut energy supply to the operation.
The combined output of the two mines accounts for about 83 percent of the nearly 1.1 million kilograms of fine silver Bolivia produced in 2009, according to mining ministry data.
“We are close to concluding this process of dialogue and in the coming hours we will return to Potosi to inform about the agreements that have been reached,” protest leader Celestino Condori told a news conference aired on local radio after attending talks in the city of Sucre.
But he cautioned that agreements reached over a host of demands would have to be presented to protesters before any formal end to demonstrations.
Carlos Romero, minister for autonomous affairs, told state television an end to the conflict was “very near”.
Protesters want the government to spend more on infrastructure, and the two sides reached agreements on a border dispute between the departments of Potosi and Oururo, on the construction of an airport and cement factory and the re-opening of a metals plant.
The two sides were still negotiating over highway projects. (Writing by Carlos Quiroga. Editing by Simon Gardner and Philip Barbara)