Protests at Chinese copper mine in Peru continue after local leader freed

Peruvian police on Friday freed the leader of an indigenous community that has blocked roads to a major copper mine owned by a Chinese company, but hours later arrested his second-in-command, accusing him of running over police officers while driving drunk.

The release of Gregorio Rojas, the president of the Quechua-speaking community Fuerabamba, had been a key demand of Fuerabamba villagers who have cut off access to Chinese miner MMG Ltd’s mine Las Bambas, halting its exports.

Police had accused Rojas of belonging to a criminal organisation that tried to extort MMG. But a week after his arrest, he was freed in the capital Lima without charge.

News of Rojas’ release, however, failed to quell a protest by Fuerabamba villagers in Challhuahuacho, a highland town where the government declared an emergency earlier on Friday and authorised the military to restore order.

Protesters in Challhuahuacho who have camped out on a road near the entrance of Las Bambas vowed to remain there until Fuerabamba’s three lawyers – who were arrested with Rojas – were freed as well.

“Our leaders and our lawyers aren’t criminals. They were demanding respect for the community,” Serefina Huachaca, a 28-year-old protester said as she nursed her infant daughter on the road. “We’re not leaving.”

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