The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency and banned public gatherings in four townships east of the capital following clashes between police and anti-mining protesters.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said Thursday police and soldiers have been sent to the towns, but did not say how many. The decree allows them to temporarily make detentions, conduct searches and question suspects outside the normal legal framework.

Residents held a series of protests over the last week against the Canadian-owned Escobal silver mine, about 40 miles (70 kms) east of Guatemala City.

The mine recently received operating permits. Residents fear it will pollute water supplies.

Six protesters were wounded by gunfire from mine security guards Sunday. Other protesters then seized 23 police officers who were later freed.