Yangon - About 50 people were injured Thursday, mostly from burns, when police broke up a demonstration at a Chinese-run coppermine in north-western Myanmar, protesters said.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the Sagaing division to visit protesters in hospital who were hurt at their camp outside the Latpadantaung copper mine near Monywa township, 827 kilometres north-west of Yangon.
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Demonstrators said police used water cannon, tear gas and firebombs to evict them from the camp. The government denied reportsthat it had used chemicals.
More than 200 hardcore protesters, including about 50 Buddhist monks, had remained camped outside the Latpadantaung copper mine inthe Sagaing division near Monywa township, 827 kilometres north-west of Yangon, the government had ordered them to leave the site by midnight (1730 GMT) Wednesday.
They said the mine, a joint venture between the Myanmarmilitary-owned Economic Holdings Ltd and China’s Wanbao Co Yang TzeCopper Ltd, illegally confiscated land from villagers and polluted.
Most of the protesters obeyed the evacuation order. Those who refused to leave were given another ultimatum to depart by 3:15 am Thursday, protesters said.
"They counted down five minutes, and then the police used waterhoses, tear gas and fire bombs on us," protester Myo Thant said by telephone.
"About 20 people, mostly monks, were injured," he said. The protesters regrouped at a camp a few kilometres from the mine, another demonstrator said.
Myanmar’s parliament on Wednesday set up an independent commission to investigate the villagers’ claims that the mine was causing pollution, but the mine must first resume operations for the commission to do its work, legislators said.
The crackdown came ahead of a visit to the site planned later Thursday by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. A similar protest at the mine occurred in September. It resulted in mass arrests. The joint venture was awarded its mining concession in March 2010 when Myanmar was still under military rule.
The recent protests were unheard of under the junta that governedfrom 1988 to 2010. The current government, chosen in November 2011 in Myanmar’s firstelections in 20 years, has carried out political and economic reforms and tolerated public expression of political views.
Opposition to the 3.5-billion-dollar Myitsone hydropower plant in the northern state of Kachin led President Thein Sein to shelve the dam last year, a decision that surprised many observers.
Environmentalists opposed the China-run project because they said it would adversely impact the Irrawaddy River.