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Freeport Indonesia to ease mine lockdown in bid to end protest

JAKARTA, Aug 27 (Reuters) – The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoran Inc said on Thursday it would ease a lockdown at its Grasberg gold and copper mine after a protest this week by workers angry over not being able to leave the mountain-top mining complex for months.

Mining operations have been disrupted after workers have blocked access to the world’s second-largest copper mine in the easternmost region of Papua since Monday, demanding transport out of the mine resumes and to receive a bonus for working during the pandemic.

Riza Pratama, a spokesman for PT Freeport Indonesia, said the company and the local government had agreed to ease curbs to allow workers to leave the mine area and visit the nearby town, but had yet to reach an agreement with workers on the policy implementation.

Local authorities were allowing some workers to leave Grasberg each day when they passed rapid test screening for the coronavirus, instead of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, he said.

“They have to take rapid test when leaving, but there’s only a limited number of tests at a time and the number of buses is also limited,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to regulate now.”

The workers will have to also pass a temperature check upon arriving at the nearby town.

Pratama said 4,600 workers who had not taken any leave since April would be given priority, but a worker said the protest would go on until there was a written agreement.

“We will open the access only when we have the inter-office (memo) from the management in our hands,” said a worker who declined to be named for fear of repercussions.

The worker said a deadline had been set for 6 pm (0900GMT) for it to be issued, otherwise the protest would continue on Friday.

Freeport employs 13,000 people in Tembagapura, the closest town to the Grasberg mine. Out of these, 389 had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 361 of them now recovered, Pratama said on Wednesday. (Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Fransiska Nangoy Editing by Ed Davies)

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