World

Police clash with protesters in Peru over Chinese mining project; 3 killed, 17 injured

MADRE DE DIOS REGION, PERU - NOVEMBER 17:  A National Police officer searches an illegal mining operation in the Amazon lowlands on November 17, 2013 in Madre de Dios region, Peru. Police eventually destroyed three pieces of illegal mining equipment in the area. The biologically diverse Madre de Dios ('Mother of God') region has seen deforestation from gold mining in the area triple since 2008, when gold prices spiked during global economic turmoil. Small-scale miners are drawn to the area in hopes for higher pay but often face abysmal conditions. Gold is usually amalgamated with mercury during the process of informal mining in the region, which is discharged into the water supply and air, poisoning fish and sickening people in the area. Peru is the largest producer of gold in Latin America and the sixth-largest in the world. Informal mining accounts for roughly 20 percent of the gold production in Peru.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

MADRE DE DIOS REGION, PERU - NOVEMBER 17: A National Police officer searches an illegal mining operation in the Amazon lowlands on November 17, 2013 in Madre de Dios region, Peru. Police eventually destroyed three pieces of illegal mining equipment in the area. The biologically diverse Madre de Dios ('Mother of God') region has seen deforestation from gold mining in the area triple since 2008, when gold prices spiked during global economic turmoil. Small-scale miners are drawn to the area in hopes for higher pay but often face abysmal conditions. Gold is usually amalgamated with mercury during the process of informal mining in the region, which is discharged into the water supply and air, poisoning fish and sickening people in the area. Peru is the largest producer of gold in Latin America and the sixth-largest in the world. Informal mining accounts for roughly 20 percent of the gold production in Peru. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

At least three people were shot and killed and 17 wounded in a clash between police and highlands farmers protesting a $7.4 billion Chinese-owned copper mining project, health officials said Monday.

Police apparently opened fire on the protesters when they entered part of the Las Bambas mine where the plant that separates copper ore from rock is under construction.

The local health director, Jose Soplopuco, told The Associated Press that two men died en route to the regional capital of Cuzco and one at the local health clinic.

Percy Jeronimo, the oral surgeon running the emergency room, said three of the wounded were in critical condition.

Soplopuco said ambulances couldn't reach Challhuahuacho, the town of about 10,000 residents where the clinic is located, because police had shot at a vehicle carrying doctors.

The Las Bambas project is owned by a consortium led by Chinese state giant China Minmetals Corp. It is scheduled to begin production in 2016 and produce 400,000 metric tons of copper the following year.

President Ollanta Humala appealed to protest leaders for calm. He called Las Bambas Peru's biggest mining project on Monday.

The Associated Press called the project's office in Lima but no one answered.

Peru is the world's No. 3 copper producer and mining accounts for about 60 percent of its export earnings.

But resistance by local farmers has frustrated and delayed major projects across the rugged Andean nation. Six people have been killed so far this year in anti-mining protests, including a police officer whose skull was fractured during May protests against a Mexican-owned copper mining project.

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