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Papua Gold Mine Protest Talks Deadlocked

February 24, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Talks between protesters blockading the world’s largest gold mine and its U.S. owners yielded no visible progress Friday, but police said they had no plans to forcibly break up the demonstration.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. was forced to shut its mine in Indonesia’s Papua province on Wednesday after about 500 locals _ some of them carrying bows and arrows _ set up barricades and demanded permission to sift through waste ore.

Protesters, company officials, local security and tribal chiefs are trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the blockade, said police spokesman Kartono Wangsadisastra.

``There are talks going on but they are deadlocked,″ he said, giving no more details.

Freeport’s two spokesmen were unavailable for comment Friday.

``We will not force the protesters to move,″ because doing so could start riots, Wangsadisastra said.

The Grasberg mine has long had an uneasy relationship with local people, many of whom are desperately poor.

Although illegal, many people earn their living retrieving and selling tiny amounts of gold and copper from waste rock, or tailings, dumped by the mine.

The Grasberg mine, the largest gold mine in the world and the third largest copper mine, opened in 1973. Freeport estimates the mine, some 2,300 miles east of Jakarta, could continue operating for decades to come.

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