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Ecuador signs mining contract with Chinese firm
by Staff Writers
Quito (AFP) March 6, 2012

Ecuador has signed an agreement with a Chinese firm to begin exploiting a massive copper mine in the Amazon, prompting protests by environmental activists.

"We cannot be beggars sitting on a sack of gold," President Rafael Correa said at a signing ceremony Monday, adding that the deal would launch a "new era" of industrial mining in the small Andean country.

Police had earlier evicted a dozen female environmental activists who had occupied China's embassy to reject the pact with Chinese-financed mining firm EcuaCorriente (ECSA), saying it would damage the Amazon's fragile ecosystem.

The officers loaded the protesters onto a police bus surrounded by soldiers.

Yvonne Yanez, leader of the group Ecologist Action, said the activists entered the embassy without incident, and that the women had been waiting inside to deliver a letter to the ambassador, who never received them.

About 50 other activists were outside the diplomatic mission.

The mining "will affect for all time the territory of indigenous people and nature," the letter said.

"We reject the signing of the contract... without approval of an environmental impact study and without the knowledge of indigenous communities."

The agreement, which falls under a law passed three years ago, comes just before the main aboriginal group CONAIE planned to initiate a two-week march to Quito on Thursday to protest the mining and other Correa policies.

"We will not accept large-scale mining in our territory because it will destroy nature, pollute rivers and displace people in areas with significant agricultural potential, farming and tourism," CONAIE president Humberto Cholango told AFP.

ECSA plans to invest $1.4 billion during the first five years of the 25-year contract for the Mirador mine in the Condor range in southeastern Ecuador, in an area that the protesters say is one of the country's most biodiverse.

The mine has an estimated reserves of 2.1 million tons (4.7 billion pounds) of copper.

Ecuador stands to receive $4.5 billion over the term of the agreement, while the company, which will begin production in late 2014, will invest $100 million from royalties to help develop neighboring communities.

The state's share of mining income is 52 percent, higher than in countries like Chile (36 percent), Peru (32.9 percent) and Mexico (30 percent), but less than the 85 percent that applies to oil production.

"The state owns the resources and the company invests at a cost to get the resources. The highest percentage of profit will always go to the state," Vice Minister of Mines Federico Auquilla told El Comercio newspaper.

He said Ecuador has a dozen projects in advanced stages of exploration -- prior to signing an exploitation contract -- for copper, gold and silver.

But most of the projects are located in regions of the Amazon home to indigenous communities staunchly opposed to large-scale mining.

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Peru miners protest over wildcat mining row
Lima (AFP) March 5, 2012 - Some 5,000 protesters took to the streets in Peru's eastern Amazon region Monday to rally against the government's tougher new line against illegal gold mining, local media reported.

The protesters, including indigenous and other illegal gold miners, paralyzed the streets of Puerto Maldonado, capital of the Amazon basin province of Madre de Dios bordering Brazil.

The province's mining federation and the local indigenous peoples' federation are among groups accusing the government in Lima of cracking down on wildcatters instead of helping them become authorized, legal miners.

Several hundred police officers were deployed in a bid to avoid an escalation of violence, and businesses were closed, according to local media. Clashes between police and miners left two people dead and 36 wounded in Puerto Maldonado early last year.

Peru is the world's fifth largest producer of gold, and with global prices sky high, unauthorized mining has surged. And the ecological disaster created by these unregulated mines has worsened in the past three years as gold prices soared.

The new Peruvian law penalizes illegal mining, with violators facing four to 10 years in prison. The harshest penalties would be reserved for use of child labor or contaminating water used for human consumption.

The previous maximum penalty was eight years in prison.

Over the past six months, the government has also led a series of crackdowns on unauthorized mining, with a thousand police officers and soldiers deployed each time.

In November, more than 1,500 police officers and soldiers seized or destroyed at least 75 dredging machines along with river boats used for gold mining in Madre de Dios, near the border with Brazil and Bolivia.


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Chinese designer finds fashion home in Paris
Paris (AFP) March 6, 2012
When Masha Ma first came to Paris the Chinese designer, who on Wednesday holds her first Fashion Week show in the city, had a style revelation as she was sipping coffee on a street corner. "Just next to me, I saw this woman dressed exactly in my look, sitting there looking absolutely stunning in a beautiful blouse and long skirt," the vivacious 30-year-old told AFP. "Now if I can see my ... read more

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