World

Deadly protest against mine project in southern Peru prompts state of emergency

MADRE DE DIOS REGION, PERU - NOVEMBER 17:  National Police officers search for illegal mining operations in a section of the Amazon lowlands ravaged by deforestation from gold mining 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: National Police officers search for illegal mining operations in a section of the Amazon lowlands ravaged by deforestation from gold mining 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)

Peru's government suspended civil liberties Tuesday and mobilized the military in a remote southeastern region after four people were killed and 22 injured in a clash between police and farmers over a Chinese-owned copper mining project.

Violence broke out Monday in the south-central town of Challhuahuacho when 2,000 people, mostly Quechua-speaking highlanders, mounted a protest against the $7.4 billion project will cause environmental damage to the Andean area.

The state of emergency, which is to last 30 days, is the second declared this year by Peru's government after fatalities in an anti-mining protest. 

The protesters object to changes in the plant's environmental impact plan that would put a copper- and molybdenum-processing plant three miles from the mine's three open pits. The revised plan also calls for processed ore to be shipped to the Pacific coast by train and truck rather than pipeline, as originally planned. The protesters believe the district would suffer contamination.

Police opened fire Monday when some protesters encroached on terrain owned by the $7.4 billion project, Peru's largest.

The four fatalities were all local men, ages 23 to 36, and all died of gunshot wounds, Cuzco deputy regional health director Erwin Luna told The Associated Press by phone. Health officials said 14 injured civilians suffered gunshot wounds while eight police officers had contusions. Police Gen. Luis Pantoja told RPP radio that two police officers had cracked skulls.

Amnesty International's executive director in Peru, Marina Navarro, called the deaths "unacceptable" in an email sent to the AP.

"In the past four years alone, 40 people have been killed in circumstances in which police used excessive force, and the majority of these deaths have not been adequately investigated," the statement said. "The price of social protests should not be the death of any person."

The project is owned by a consortium led by China Minmetals Corp., which purchased it last year from the Swiss mining giant Glencore. It is to begin production in 2016.

Peru is the world's third-largest copper producer and derives 60 percent of its exports from mining. Its recent easing of environmental protections has angered people in many communities in the shadow of mining projects who fear contamination and the loss of irrigation water.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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