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Four dead in Peru airport clash: hospital

world Updated: Jun 26, 2011 02:18 IST

At least four people were killed and two dozen wounded on Friday in clashes with riot police as anti-mining demonstrators attempted to occupy an airport in southeastern Peru, hospital officials said.

An estimated 1,000 protesters, mostly local Aymara Indian farmers, were dispersed by some 100 police at Inca Manco Capac international airport in Juliaca.

Three of the dead, including a protester and a passerby watching the scene, died from gunshot wounds, Juliaca hospital doctor Percy Casaperalta told AFP in this city of 200,000 inhabitants. All were civilians, but the cause of death for the fourth remained unclear.

The deaths capped a bloody week in Peru that saw social conflicts leave a total of seven people dead, including a child, and around 50 wounded.

Some of the protesters managed to breach the security barrier and penetrate the airport in hopes of disrupting air traffic, while others burned grasslands around the airport, paralyzing planes on the tarmac.

Airport authorities were forced to cancel flight departures and arrivals due to the clashes on this second day of a 48-hour strike in Juliaca enacted by labor unions and farmers.

The city is a popular tourist site on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and hundreds of foreign tourists were unable to leave the city.

Schools and markets were also closed, while public transportation ground to a halt and protesters set up road blocks.

The Puno region has been in the grips of a wave of protests against mining projects, led primarily by the Aymara Indians, a majority ethnic group in this southeastern part of the country. They are demanding an end to all mining activity and oil drilling in Puno province, one of the poorest in Peru.

Protest leader Walter Aduviri is in Lima for a dialogue with the government but the talks have yet to reach a settlement.

For three weeks in May, the protesters blocked vehicle traffic between Peru and Bolivia, and then cut off all access to Puno, population 120,000, for a week. Protests have since spread to the provinces of Azangaro, Melgar and now Juliaca city.

In the central city of Huancavelica on Tuesday, three people were killed and 32 wounded during clashes between police and students protesting against the launch of a university on the same budget as another.

"There is inaction at all levels of the government," said Eduardo Vega of the national ombudsman's office, which counted 227 social or environmental conflicts in early June -- and 88 people killed in four years.

The latest violence comes as center-right President Alan Garcia prepares to step down on July 28 for Ollanta Humala, who will bring the left back in power for the first time in 36 years.

The mining protests began as a demand to revoke a silver mining concession granted to Canada-based Bear Creek Mining Corporation, fearing it will pollute the water and leave few local benefits.

They then expanded to include opposition to other area mines, and now include opposition to the Inambari project, an ambitious plan to damn several Andean rivers and build what would become one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in South America.