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UPDATE 2-Mexico police, strikers clash at Cananea mine

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MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Police and striking miners clashed at Grupo Mexico's GMEXICOB.MX huge Cananea copper mine on Friday after a labor board declared a five-month-long strike there illegal, the company and the miners' union said.

Police called in to break up a picket line at the mine gate fired tear gas at workers who were trying to block the entrance with heavy machinery, company spokesman Juan Rebolledo told Reuters.

“They threw machinery at the police and that is why the tear gas was fired,” said Rebolledo. The union confirmed the violence but did not say how the scuffles began.

Union leader Napoleon Gomez, who is living in Canada to avoid corruption charges in Mexico, said that armed state and federal police were trying to occupy the mine.

“They are violating both the constitution and labor law,” Napoleon told Reuters. “They are making a very big mistake.”

Several hundred police were involved in the clash, Gomez and a Mexican newspaper said.

Earlier, a labor board ruled that the strike was illegal.

Rebolledo said the government gave the workers 24 hours to return to work and called in security forces to open the mine gates.

Miners walked off the job on July 30 in a labor spat that began with health and safety conditions and has been complicated by a power struggle between the company and Gomez.

Grupo Mexico said the work stoppage was costing the company $2.8 million dollars a day in lost sales and the company had to cut production estimates last year.

The union spokesman in Mexico, Carlos Pavon, said the miners would appeal Friday’s ruling, dragging out the dispute even longer.

The labor board had declared the strike illegal last year, but a court backed union appeals. (Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver)