Protesters sit-in at Brazil miner Vale dam burst site, demand aid extension

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BRUMADINHO, Brazil (Reuters) - Roughly 150 demonstrators staged a sit-in at Brazilian miner Vale’s administrative building in the town of Brumadinho on Thursday to protest their treatment nearly two years after a deadly mining waste dam collapsed there, killing about 270 people.

The protestors are demanding an extension of emergency aid payments for about 100,000 people affected by the disaster, while also alleging that the miner has failed to provide them with clean drinking water after mining waste polluted local water sources.

The activists, who ended their protest later on Thursday afternoon, say the aid payments are essential to support low-income and river-dwelling peoples whose livelihood was destroyed by the dam collapse.

The protesters, many wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, sat at the entrance to the Vale administrative complex holding up signs saying, “Profit is not worth life” and “Our fight is for life.”

The demonstration comes as Vale has sought to right the company following the Jan. 2019 disaster, the second mining waste dam it fully or partially controlled to collapse in the span of four years.

Vale reinstituted dividend payments earlier this year, although litigation over the company’s role in the disaster is still pending.

Vale said in a statement that it has distributed 910,000 liters (240,397 gallons) of water and continues to offer supplies normally. The miner said it was committed to full reparation of damages and that it respected the right to protest as long as people can enter and leave the complex.

A representative of the protest’s organizer told Reuters by phone that Vale had halved emergency payments of a full minimum wage to those affected. Vale said it is still paying a full minimum wage in an agreement effective through October.

The protest organizers said Vale wants to further reduce payments to 25% of minimum wage. The terms of an extension of emergency payments are under negotiation with public prosecutors, Vale said.

Reporting by Washington Alves in Brumadinho and Roberto Samora in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Bill Berkrot