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Bolivian Protests Dent Silver Production


"Protests disrupt production at world's biggest silver deposits."

Bolivia's government sought on Thursday to defuse protests disrupting production at three mines, including two of the world's biggest silver deposits owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp. and U.S.-based Coeur D'Alene.

More than two weeks of protests over infrastructure in the mineral-rich Potosi region have hurt the mainstay mining industry in Bolivia, a major global producer of zinc, silver, tin and lead.

Coeur D'Alene said on Wednesday its San Bartolome mine, the world's largest pure silver mine, had been shut down for 12 days, while Sumitomo reported its silver/zinc/lead San Cristobal mine was forced to stop processing ore.

The combined output of the two mines accounts for about 83% of the nearly 1.1M tons of fine silver Bolivia produced in 2009, according to Mining Ministry data.

San Cristobal was the top silver mine in Bolivia producing some 620,000 tons of fine silver in 2009, according to the government data.

World silver, zinc and lead prices were not affected by protests in Bolivia as investors focus on the U.S. economic recovery, traders said.

Presidential spokesman Ivan Canelas said government officials were willing to meet with protesters on Thursday, lifting the condition that they stop protesting first, in what was seen as a key step to end the protest.

Top Mines Offline

A spokesman for San Cristobal said on Wednesday workers were still mining ore but the processing plant had been shut and they were not transporting mineral to Chile for exports.

"We're deeply concerned about the continuity of our operations," San Cristobal said in a statement on Thursday.

The San Cristobal mine is the world's third-largest producer of silver and the sixth-largest producer of zinc, according to Sumitomo.

Analysts say high world inventories should compensate for a prolonged output loss in Bolivia.

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