Bolivia protests bring mines to a halt

By David Mercado and Carlos Quiroga

POTOSI/LA PAZ, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Mining companies Coeur D'Alene (CDE.N) and Glencore said on Wednesday anti-government protests in Bolivia's southern Potosi region have brought their mining operations there to a standstill.

Demonstrations demanding the government carry out development projects in the country's mineral rich Potosi region also forced the San Cristobal mine -- one of Bolivia's largest -- to halt some of its productions, a company spokesman told Reuters.

Local residents have been protesting against the government for nearly two weeks, blocking roads linking Potosi with the rest of the country.

The San Cristobal mine is still extracting mineral ore although it has stopped processing it and is no longer transporting it to Chile, from where it is shipped abroad, spokesman Javier Prado said.

"We're very worried ... if we don't (restart the plant) we could face a complete shutdown of the mine in the short term," he told Reuters.

San Cristobal is one of the largest mines in landlocked Bolivia, producing some 1,300 tonnes of zinc-silver ore, and 300 tonnes of lead-silver ore per day. It is 100 percent owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp (8053.T).

The protests have also left dozens of foreign tourists stranded. Some protest leaders have been on a hunger strike since Saturday, demanding leftist President Evo Morales visits the area to negotiate with them.

"The mining industry in Potosi is paralized," protest leader Celestino Condori told reporters.

The protests also brought to a halt the Cerro Rico silver mine, where thousands of independent miners work, and some key mines controlled by foreign investors, including San Bartolome, the world's largest pure silver mine run by Coeur D'Alene.

San Bartolome official Jose Manuel Farfan told Reuters the company has been unable to operate for 12 days, while an official from Glencore's Porco mine who asked not to be named said they were also at a standstill.

Protests by Indian groups against mining companies are fairly common in impoverished Bolivia, which is a big producer of zinc, silver, tin and lead.

The Andean country exported nearly 1.5 billion worth of minerals in 2009. (Writing by Eduardo Garcia)

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