CEO of Peru’s largest copper miner seeks ‘middle ground’ after protests

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Band Marcelo Rochabrun

AQUIA, Peru, November 5 (Reuters)The chief of Antamina, Peru’s largest copper producer, sought to defuse tensions with protesters in the rural community on Friday, speaking to residents of allocal meeting after a blockade forced the mining company to suspend operations last week.

Victor Gobitz, boss of Antamina, partly owned by Glencore Plc GLEN.L and BHP Billiton BHP.AX, told residents at a town hall in Aquia attended by Reuters that the two sides could find common ground, a radical departure from an earlier critical tone.

“With orderly dialogue we will find the formula for a development plan for the whole city of Aquia,” Gobitz said at the meeting, tenuous in the city’s bullfighting arena. “We need to lead by example to find common ground.”

The tone was a marked change for Gobitz, who initially dismissed the protesters as violent and only representative of a minority of voices.

Protests against miners in Peru, the world’s second largest copper producer, have intensified in recent weeks amid high expectations from rural communities emboldened by the socialist administration of center-left President Pedro Castillo.

Castillo, from peasant farming, came to power in July with massive support from mining regions, promising to raise the taxes on minors to promote local development.

The community of Aquia, located approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Antamina, had blocked a key road to the mine in late October, before agreeing to lift the blockade after government talks earlier this week.

Residents say the area receives little in terms of tax contributions from the mine, aalthough the company has a copper pipeline and a road through the city.

“We are not launching a social crisis,” Aquia chairman Adan Damian said in remarks in response to Gobitz. “I have mixed feelings that after protesting so much, we are finally heard.”

Gobitz said Antamina would withdraw criminal allegations against Aquia leaders and nearby residents made before the protests and would work to provide cell phone towers to the city. He shook hands with local leaders at the meeting.

Aquia residents hope to sign a formal agreement with Antamina later on Friday. The presence of Gobitz indicates that a positive resolution is likely.

(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Marguerita Choy and Steve Orlofsky)

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