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Protest ends at Chile's lithium salt flats with promise of Boric visit

Published 01/13/2024, 01:56 PM
Updated 01/13/2024, 02:01 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A roadblock is set up to block access to the Atacama salt flat, one of the world's largest lithium deposits, near Peine, Chile January 10, 2024. REUTERS/John Yevenes/File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Protesters agreed to end demonstrations that had blocked access to the Atacama salt flat in Chile, the world's largest lithium deposit, with the promise of a visit by President Gabriel Boric.

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

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

The Atacama Indigenous Council said in a statement shared on the social media platform X on Friday that protesters would end the occupation over the coming hours after the mining ministry promised Boric would come to the area. No timing was given for the visit.

The protest underscored a serious challenge to a plan by Chile, the No. 2 lithium producer, to impose more state control over the metal needed for batteries used to power the world's growing electric vehicle fleet.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A roadblock is set up to block access to the Atacama salt flat, one of the world's largest lithium deposits, near Peine, Chile January 10, 2024. REUTERS/John Yevenes/File Photo

"The president of Chile must know the Atacama salt flat before specifying... the policy," the council's statement said.

Albemarle said earlier its operations continued as normal during the protest while SQM did not respond to a request for comment.

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