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Chile's SQM suspends operations at lithium salt flats due to blockades

Published 01/14/2024, 01:41 PM
Updated 01/14/2024, 01:45 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's SQM, the world's second-largest lithium producer, said it has suspended operations at the Atacama salt flat in Chile due to road blockades.

"Since we do not know how long the road blockade will continue, it is not possible for us to estimate the financial impact of the stoppage," the company said in a statement dated Saturday.

Indigenous groups for days blocked public roads that lead to mining operations in the south of the salt flat, the world's largest lithium deposit, where SQM and U.S. firm Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) extract the metal, preventing workers, supplies and lithium from entering or leaving.

The Atacama Indigenous Council, however, on Saturday said that protesters would end the occupation after the mining ministry promised that President Gabriel Boric would come to the area. It was not immediately clear if protesters remained in the area on Sunday.

The demonstrations were sparked by an agreement signed last month between SQM and state-run copper firm Codelco that indigenous leaders said sidelined local communities despite a recent government promise of a dialogue to discuss lithium mining in the Atacama.

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