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World’s Biggest Platinum Mine Monitored by Police After Riot

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Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. said police are monitoring the world’s biggest platinum mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, after violent protests yesterday.

The situation was “calm” by late today and a big police presence remained at the mine, also known as Impala, Lesiba Seshoka, a National Union of Mineworkers’ spokesman, said by e-mail. About 500 miners and unemployed people protested outside the mine today, said Sydwell Dokolwana, the union’s regional secretary in Rustenburg. Demonstrators yesterday killed a miner who was on his way to work, he said by phone.

“The situation was very, very tense in the morning,” Dokolwana said. “Because of the presence of police for now there are no road blockages. People are just singing and carrying sticks and pangas,” Dokolwana said, referring to heavy, machete-like knives usually used to clear vegetation.

Impala fired 17,200 workers at the mine, which accounts for about 12 percent of global production of platinum, two weeks ago after an illegal strike began. By Feb. 14 the disruption had delayed output of 60,000 ounces of the metal worth about 1.2 billion rand ($154 million), Impala’s Chief Executive Officer, David Brown, said yesterday.

About 500 policemen have been deployed to the operation, the South African Press Association reported, citing Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, a police officer.

Impala shares rose 3 percent to close at 162.99 rand in Johannesburg after declining 4 percent yesterday. The price of platinum advanced 0.7 percent to $1,636 an ounce as of 3:32 p.m. in London.

Dispute Meeting

The protests were sparked by rivalry between NUM, recognized by Impala as the main labor group at the operation, and the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union, which is trying to gain members, Brown said.

The union met Impala today in Johannesburg to try to resolve the situation. The meeting was “successful,” Seshoka said by phone. Impala has rehired about 700 workers, he said. The company will consider reinstatement of workers rather than rehiring so that they can retain benefits such as employee share ownership, Seshoka said.

The mine was “basically quiet” overnight and this morning, the company said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net; Jana Marais in Johannesburg at jmarais@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net; Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net