Worker Shot Dead as Copper Protest at Chile’s Codelco Sours

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A worker was shot dead in clashes with Chile’s police as a protest by contractors working with Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, escalates.

Nelson Quichillao Lopez died early Friday amid protests outside El Salvador, an operation of state-owned Codelco in northern Chile, the labor union, the Confederacion de Trabajadores del Cobre, said in a statement on its website. A second person was hospitalized after sustaining injuries in the incident, Codelco said.

Protesters used two “loaders” stolen from Codelco to attack the police, said Miguel Vargas, intendant for the Atacama Region where the project is based. One of demonstrators tried to run over police officers, who responded with shots that resulted in the death of one worker and the injury of another, he said.

“We deeply regret” the death, Vargas said in comments to Cooperativa radio. Codelco said it will cooperate with authorities to clarify the episode.

The company on Wednesday shut operations at Salvador, located about 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) north of Santiago, to guarantee the safety of workers after company property was stolen and damaged during protests. The closure was costing the company more than $500,000 a day, it said, citing “serious damage” to equipment at the mine.

The Confederacion de Trabajadores condemned Friday’s killing and said it held Codelco and the Interior Ministry responsible. Contractors at the company are protesting in support of demands to change the terms of an accord with Codelco that helps regulate their pay and conditions.

Jose Robles, Vice President for Production and Costs, said Codelco was under no obligation to renegotiate the terms, according to Diario Financiero. If any talks do take place, they must take into account productivity improvements, he said.

El Salvador is Codelco’s smallest operation, producing 54,000 tons of copper last year, or about 3 percent of the company’s total output. Copper for delivery in three months on the London Metal Exchange fell as much as 1.5 percent on Friday to $5,191.50, the lowest since 2009.

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