By SONIA PEREZ DIAZ and LUIS SOTO
XALAPAN, Guatemala (AP) â¿¿ Guatemala's government declared a state of emergency and banned public gatherings in four townships east of the capital Thursday following several days of violent clashes between police and anti-mining protesters.
The confrontations, which began over the weekend, have left one policeman dead, six residents wounded by rubber bullets, and police patrols and other cars burned. Twenty-three police officers were briefly held by protesters before being freed.
"The investigation has revealed that a series of criminal acts were committed, from murder to kidnapping to the destruction of government property," said President Otto Perez Molina, explaining why he declared a state of emergency for the townships in the states of Jalapa and Santa Rosa.The government sent in 500 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, some in armored personnel vehicles. It said protesters were armed with guns and explosives. Clashes have involved police, mine security guards and local protesters. Residents of the area are mainly members of the Xinca indigenous group. They claim the Canadian-owned Escobal silver mine, known locally as the San Rafael mine, threatens their local water sources. The mine's owner, Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Inc., said protesters armed with machetes "turned hostile" at the gate on Saturday, and security guards fired tear gas and rubber bullets to ensure the security of mine personnel. Six protesters were wounded by rubber bullets. Ira Gostin, vice president of investor relations for Tahoe Resources, said complaints that the mine could affect the water springs "are totally unfounded." The mine has received permits to operate but is not yet operating. In the village of Xalapan, where some charred vehicles littered the streets, dozens of police officers and soldiers patted down residents and searched house-by-house for people suspected in inciting violence. Those arrested were taken to a soccer field in a nearby town.