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Protesters in Chile disrupt lithium mines with road blockade amid growing anti-government demonstrations

Protesters in Chile disrupt lithium mines with road blockade amid growing anti-government demonstrations
Indigenous activists in Chile have shut down lithium mining operations for some of the world’s largest producers, as the country is gripped by protests over widespread perceptions of inequality.

Chile’s capital saw its biggest rally yet on Friday, following seven straight days of demonstrations sparked by a hike in public transportation fees, in which at least 18 people have been killed, over 200 injured and thousands arrested. As things heated up in Santiago, however, protesters nearly 700 miles north locked down roadways in the Atacama salt flats, blocking access routes to some of the region’s abundant lithium mines.

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Chile is home to the world’s largest lithium reserves, as well as one of the top producers of the lightweight metal – used in cell phone batteries and other electronics – the Chemical and Mining Society (SQM).

The effort to close the roads has been underway since Wednesday, Sergio Cubillos, president of the Atacama Indigenous Council, told Reuters, adding that SQM’s operations were “completely shut down” by Friday.

The roads are closed.

A Santiago-based spokeswoman for SQM told Reuters she had so far been unable to obtain confirmation about the halt in operations.

Cubillos also said that the blockades disrupted the work of US-based lithium company Albemarle. However, a company representative denied that its facilities had been affected, acknowledging only minor upsets due to nationwide disruptions in the country’s public transportation system.

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As tens of thousands poured into Santiago and cities across Chile on Friday, chanting slogans and waving national flags, the police and military presence remained sizable. However, while rallies throughout the week were marked by eruptions of violence, Friday’s gathering appeared to avoid major clashes, with both protesters and security forces showing more restraint.

President Sebastian Pinera proposed a series of reforms on Tuesday night – which included lowered electricity costs and overturning the increase in transportation fees that sparked the rallies – but was largely rejected by the burgeoning protest movement, which apparently did not find the promises persuasive.

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