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LIMA (Peru): Police arrested and roughed up a prominent anti-mining activist in a northern provincial capital Wednesday, further inflaming tensions as the government imposed a state of emergency to quell increasingly violent protests against Peru’s biggest mining project.
The arrest of Marco Arana, captured on video that a local TV channel broadcast, showed riot police scooping the former Roman Catholic priest off a bench in the central square of Cajamarca and taking him away in a choke hold.
Arana, a 49-year-old veteran of anti-mining protests, complained via Twitter that “in the police station they hit me again, punches in the face, kidneys, insults.”
Chief local prosecutor Johnny Diaz told The Associated Press that he had designated a prosecutor to investigate Arana’s claim.
Diaz said Arana was arrested for organizing meetings, an activity prohibited under the state of emergency. But the prosecutor said authorities had not issued any arrest warrants or made any mass arrests Wednesday.
The state of emergency was imposed late Tuesday in Cajamarca province and two neighboring provinces after three people were killed during a violent protest in the region.
It was the second emergency declared in five weeks to quell anti-mining protests. A 30-day emergency had just lapsed in Espinar, a highlands province near the former Incan capital of Cuzco where two people were killed May 29 while protesting against a copper mine.
The object of Tuesday’s protest is the US$4.8 billion Conga gold mining project, which was suspended late last year by US-based Newmont Mining Co. after protests by local people who insist the mine will hurt their water supplies. Newmont owns a majority stake in the project.
President Ollanta Humala’s government late last month announced conditions for allowing the project to proceed, but opponents backed by Cajamarca’s provincial president, Gregorio Santos, vowed not to let it go forward.
On Tuesday, protesters tried to storm the municipal hall in Celendin, a town that is a stronghold of resistance to Conga. Three civilians were killed and at least 21 people wounded.
The regional health director said two of the fatalities died of gunshot wounds to the head.
Authorities said some of the demonstrators had opened fire on security forces, wounding two police officers and a soldier in the legs.