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20. April 2007

Freeport strike sees copper prices rise


A strike Wednesday by native Papuan employees of gold and copper mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia has lead to a seven-month global high in copper prices.

With the news that production in Papua province had halted because of the strike, Shanghai copper futures rallied, with the July contract up by its 4-percent daily limit at 75,810 yuan ($9,803) a ton, Reuters reported.

Amid tight security thousands of Freeport workers in Timika, the capital of Mimika regency, staged a noisy but peaceful protest demanding welfare improvements for native Papuan employees.

The workers' demands for higher wages and an increase in recruitment of permanent Papuan workers has to-date been ostensibly ignored by Freeport.

The workers demonstrated outside the Indonesian headquarters of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold under the watchful eye of police, including an elite Mobile Brigade unit.

"They number in the thousands but so far the protest has been peaceful," police officer Adi told AFP.

The massive protest reportedly forced activities at the mine to a halt -- but company spokesman Mindo Pangaribuan said early Wednesday that production remained at full capacity at the Grasberg mine.

Tongoi Papuan, a group that manages communication between any company and native Papuans, has been heavily involved with the Freeport issue and said the protest had forced the mine's closure, Kompas Online reported.

"According to information we have just received, production activities have now totally halted," Tongoi Papua's chairman Frans Pigome said.

Freeport's spokesman later declined to comment on the report.

The workers later moved to the Mimika Legislative Council building, where their representatives were received by Yoseph Yopi Kilangin, the council speaker, and his deputies.

Other workers at the rally sang and unfurled banners outside the council building, saying, "If not now, then when" and "Employees demand justice".

The workers have been gathering in Timika from surrounding villages and towns since Tuesday after talks with company representatives were called off.

The mine has been a frequent source of controversy over its environmental impact, the share of revenue going to Papuans and the legality of payments to Indonesian security forces who help guard the site.

The firm has disputed the claims.

Freeport's Pangaribuan said in the past decade the company had almost quadrupled its Papuan employment, from 800 in 1996 to the current 3,000 workers.

Freeport has operated since 1992 its Grasberg mine in southwest Papua under a 30-year contract with the Indonesian government, according to AFP.

PT Freeport Indonesia is 91 percent company-owned, with the rest in government hands.

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