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Police in Peru killed at least two activists during protests at the site of a major new mine in a remote region of the Andes on Monday, according to the government. Local reports said three people were killed and as many as 15 injured during the clashes.The deaths occurred at the giant Las Bambas copper mine, in the district of Challhuahuacho, after hundreds of villagers attempted to forcibly enter the $7.4 billion complex owned by the Chinese company MMG.
Peru is the world's third biggest producer of copper. Las Bambas, which is due to begin operations early next year, is set to become one of the top three copper mines in the world, says the company, producing 400,000 tons a year.The construction of Las Bambas has been met with significant opposition from the surrounding towns. The latest protests, which began on Friday, mixed demands for more jobs at the mine with fears that its environmental plan will not protect their farmlands and a local river from contamination, the authorities said.Interior Minister José Pérez Guadalupe said that he had sent nearly 1,500 extra police to the area on Friday, when the protests first began to turn violent. He blamed radical groups from outside the area for provoking the clashes."Police used non-lethal weapons at the start, and then, to defend themselves, had to use lethal weapons," Perez said in a televised interview. The clashes, he added, "will not stop the mine from going forward," Perez added.Uriel Condori, a Challhuahuacho official, said that the rallies had been largely peaceful when police fired tear gas and live bullets at crowds.Evert Silva, the doctor in charge of the town's clinic, told VICE News that 15 protestors with serious injuries, including bullet wounds, were evacuated to hospitals in the city of Cusco."It was a very large crowd and it was out of control," Silva said. "The police were overwhelmed."
Silva added that he had worked through the night treating dozens of less seriously wounded demonstrators, who had remained in the town of 10,000.Video shows several people being taken away from the site.Conflicts between mining projects and impoverished rural communities are common in Peru, which is a major producer of silver, gold, and other minerals.Months of clashes between police and furious locals lead to the Conga gold and copper mine, a $5 billion project headed by Denver-based Newmont Mining, being put on hold in 2011.Earlier this year operations at the Tía María mine, $1.6 billion project of Mexican company Southern Copper, were also suspended after similar opposition from neighboring communities.In the wake of the latest clashes at La Bamba, MMG said it remains open to dialogue and that communities near the mine did not participate in the protests."Las Bambas has demonstrated through the years its vast capacity for working with communities in the area of influence," the company said in a statement.Follow Simeon Tegel on Twitter: @SimeonTegelReuters also contributed to this report