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First fatalities reported in Panama unrest over mining contract


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First fatalities reported in Panama unrest over mining contract

by AFP Staff Writers
Panama City (AFP) Nov 7, 2023
A gunman killed two demonstrators blocking a road in Panama Tuesday in the third week of protests over a big mining contract, police said.

Authorities arrested the shooter in the Chame district 80 km (50 miles) west of Panama City, police said on X, formerly Twitter.

Video circulating on social media shows the man opening fire on people blocking the Pan-American Highway, which links Panama to the rest of Central America.

These were the first fatalities in protests that broke out October 20 against a contract that allows Canada-based First Quantum Minerals to operate Central America's biggest open pit copper mine for at least another 20 years.

Protesters are concerned over the environmental impact of the mine.

Police also published a photo of the detainee -- an older man with greying hair and glasses -- seated with one hand cuffed to a pipe, either in a police station or van.

Several avenues in the capital were blocked Tuesday by small groups of protesters, while the Pan-American Highway was obstructed in several spots, hindering transport of food, fuel and medicine.

In an effort to calm tempers, congress last week passed a law that imposes a moratorium on new metal mining contracts and left it up to the Supreme Court to decide on whether to allow the contract with First Quantum Minerals.

Environmentalists have welcomed this decision by lawmakers, saying indeed it is the court that should rule on whether the contract violates the constitution.

But a powerful construction union called Suntracs, teachers unions and other organizations want the contract to be annulled through a law passed by Congress, so they are continuing their protests.

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