Guatemala declares state of emergency over anti-mining riots

Police, military and private security holding anti-mining protesters in the San Rafael district, Guatemala, Sep. 2008.

The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in four eastern municipalities after anti-mining demonstrations targeting mostly Canada’s Tahoe Resources’s (TSX: THO) flagship Escobal silver mine, left one person dead and eight severely injured.

Local paper La Hora (in Spanish) reports the country’s interior ministry banned Thursday public gatherings and sent troops to four towns near the controversial silver mine, which received its operating permit early in April. The decision triggered a series of escalating anti-mining demonstrations in south-east Guatemala, close to where the mine will be.

Residents fear the Canadian-owned mine will drain and pollute their water supplies.

Violence increased over the weekend as 20 members of Guatemalan National Police were held captive by protesters in the district of San Rafael Las Flores, where Tahoe’s project is located.

The Vancouver-based company had said yesterday it expected construction and development of Escobal mine to return to normal today. Instead, President Otto Perez Molina said it is considering sending additional troops in an attempt to arrive at peaceful solution with opponents.

The decree passed today temporarily allows police to make detentions, conduct searches and question suspects outside the normal legal framework.

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* Browse a photo essay with recent images of the conflict here.