Archipelago

Strikers blockade Freeport's
mine in Indonesia

Thousands of striking workers blockaded roads leading to Freeport-McMoRan Cooper & Gold Inc.'s mine in easternmost Indonesia on Tuesday, preventing food, medicine and other supplies from reaching holed-up staffers and their families.

Production at the mine was at a near standstill for a secondday because of security concerns and damage to the pipeline that channels concentrates to the port, said Ramdani Sirait, a spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia.

Strikers at the Grasberg mine in Papua province - which holds some of the largest gold and copper reserves in the world - are demanding salaries equivaent to what the Phoenix-based company pays in other countries.

Analysts say that's unlikely given the high cost of doing business in the remote, mountainous region, which is also home to a decades-long low-level insurgency.

Tensions soared with the deaths last week of five miners - two shot by police tryig to control a crowd and three killed by unidentified gunmen - prompting Freeport to announce a halt to operations Monday at both its underground and open-pit mines.

Reduced levels of concentrate were being produced Tuesday, the company said, but it was ready to suspend activity at any time if conditions warrated.

The blockade around the mine and at the port has prevented Freeport from sending supplies to replacement workers and their families, said Sirait, the company spokesman.

"With no food or medical supplies, we're very worried about the condition of our employees and their families," he said. "We realy hope the government will help open this blockade."

About 90 percent of the mine's 12,000 employees went on strike on Sept. 15 demanding that their current salaries of between $2.10 to $3.50 an hour be pushed to as high as $17 to $43.

But analysts say the high cost of additional infrastructure needed tosupport operations in Papua's rugged Puncak Jaya mountains - like roads and housing - make it unlikely they will be able to negotiate a globally competitive wage.

It's the second strike this year at the gold and copper mine in Papua.

The company said the first, eight-day work stoppage in July affected itsrevenue by $30 million a day.

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