Police Break Up Protest by Miners in Chile

SANTIAGO – Some 3,000 contract workers at the Collahuasi mine in northern Chile once again blocked access to the facility after police cleared the entrance and arrested 17 workers amid violent clashes.

“Three thousand comrades have taken over the mine completely and are blocking all access routes,” the head of the contract workers for Vial and Vives, Victor Reyes, told Radio Cooperative on Saturday.

Nearly 4,000 contract workers began an open-ended strike on Friday to demand improvements in working conditions, and they blocked access to the mine, which is owned by Anglo-Swiss Xstrata Plc and South Africa’s Anglo American.

The firm on Saturday requested that the Carabineros militarized police force intervene in the matter, and the security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters, El Mercurio newspaper reported on its Web site.

The firm requested and allowed the police to enter the installation, Chilean Mining Federation president Cristian Arancibia said.

“Personnel from the special Carabineros force entered the facilities of the company with tear gas. We were all sleeping, and we had to run out of our dormitory,” Arancibia told Radio Cooperativa.

“Collahuasi ordered these people to enter the installations, because this is a private area,” Arancibia said.

Copper Workers Confederation president Cristian Cuevas, for his part, said the Carabineros cleared the encampments “with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, gas-firing armored cars, police helicopters and water cannons.”

The striking contract workers have the support of the facility’s employees, and if the latter join the strike, some 6,000 workers would have idled themselves, in all.

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