Peru declares emergency to stop protest over mine

Sun Dec 4, 2011 10:53pm EST
 
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By Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency late on Sunday to quell protests against Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga mine project that have hobbled the region of Cajamarca for 11 days.

Humala, in a nationwide address, called leaders of the environmental protest intransigent and said the ruling would give security forces added power to ensure that roads, schools and hospitals could reopen after having been shuttered for days by rallies and marches against the proposed mine.

It was the first time in Humala's young presidency that he has used extraordinary powers to defuse a social conflict over mining in Peru, where some 200 disputes nationwide threaten to delay billions of dollars in planned mining and oil projects.

"Every possible means has been exhausted to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict democratically, but the intransigence of local and regional leaders has been exposed - not even the most basic agreements could be reached to ensure social peace and the reestablishment of public services," he said.

Humala campaigned on promises to steer more social spending to rural towns to help calm social conflicts over natural resources while assuring companies they could move ahead with new mining and oil projects.

He has urged mediation to solve the disputes, but nearly a week ago the government was forced to ask Newmont to temporarily halt work on the Conga mine after the protests turned violent. Since then protesters have continued to march and demanded the government permanently cancel the project.

Prime Minister Salomon Lerner negotiated on Sunday for hours with leaders of the protest, who say the mine will hurt water supplies and caused pollution.

But Lerner failed to reach an accord with protesters, prompting Humala to invoke a state of emergency - a tool that his predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, frequently used to quash social protests.

(Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Terry Wade; editing by Philip Barbara)