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Construction of Peruvian gold mine suspended

From Maria Belaunde, For CNN
updated 5:46 AM EST, Thu December 1, 2011
Protesters block the way to the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca, Peru on November 25,.
Protesters block the way to the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca, Peru on November 25,.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 18 people are wounded in the protests in northeastern Peru
  • Protests have continued, despite suspension of construction on the $4.8 billion project

Lima, Peru (CNN) -- Thousands of Peruvians continued protests Wednesday that began in October, targeting as environmentally hazardous the continued construction of a $4.8 billion gold mining project called Conga.

Eighteen people were hurt, several by gunshots, the department's director of health said.

The protests continued despite Tuesday night's announcement by the U.S.-based firm Newmont Mining Corp. that work on the project in the northeastern department of Cajamarca would be suspended.

Newmont, which is based in Denver, Colorado, and describes itself as one of the world's largest oil companies, said it had suspended construction on the project "for the safety of employees and community members."

It noted that operations there and at the nearby Yanacocha mine "have experienced intermittent work stoppages as a result of ongoing protests in the region."

The protests began when anti-mining activists expressed concern about the possible impact of the project on the local water supply, the company said in a statement on its website. "The Conga Environmental Impact Assessment was approved in 2010 after extensive review by the Peruvian government which included significant engagement and consultation with local communities," it said.

Gregorio Santos, regional president of Cajamarca, said that the central government announced the suspension of the project that critics say would adversely affect the area's ecosystem and would leave cattle in the zone without access to water.

But Daniel Abugatas, president of the Congress of the Republic and a member of the Gana Peru Party to which President Ollanta Humala belongs, said such an outcome is improbable.

As a candidate and now as president, Humala has pledged to respect contracts signed by previous governments.

Although government functionaries say the controversy over the mine is a problem that Humala inherited from a former government, some analysts say that he handled the conflict poorly.

One of them is Edwin Gonzales, an anthropologist who said that Humala told reporters on the first day of the protests that the mining project would go forward anyway.

"The terms of the handling have not been the most adequate on the part of the current government, because the affirmation that the Conga project is going forward does not allow the minimum conditions needed for dialogue," Gonzales said.

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