Strike halts Bolivia silver mine, exports

* San Cristobal is Bolivia’s top silver mine

* Union decides to continue indefinite strike

LA PAZ, March 30 (Reuters) – A week-old strike at Bolivia’s San Cristobal mine has totally paralyzed production and exports of silver, zinc and lead, a union leader said on Wednesday.

San Cristobal is the world’s third-largest producer of silver and the sixth-largest producer of zinc, according to Japan’s Sumitomo Corp (8053.T), which owns the mine.

“There is neither production nor exports, because there’s a blockade as part of the strike. Nothing is entering or leaving the mine,” union leader Cesar Lugo told Reuters by telephone.

Lugo said workers decided at a meeting to continue their strike, rejecting a request by mine managers that they call off the protest before formal talks begin.

He said he had been told the mine had a “significant quantity” of mineral concentrates stored on site, but that “nothing is leaving for Chile (export ports) because of the strike.”

Mine managers said on Tuesday that talks had not yet started to discuss the union’s demands for improved working conditions and the firing of several officials.

San Cristobal produced some 620,000 kg of fine silver in 2009, official data shows, and its output accounts for about half of the country’s total mining exports.

Labor disputes are common in mineral-rich Bolivia, a significant global exporter of zinc, silver, tin and lead.

A strike last year brought several mines to a halt for almost three weeks, including San Cristobal and Coeur D’Alene’s (CDE.N) San Bartolome, the world’s largest pure silver mine.

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