LIMA (Reuters) - A leader of protests against Newmont's $5 billion gold mine in Peru said he was beaten by police on Wednesday - a day after three people died and 21 were injured in clashes between police and protesters.
Left-wing leader Marco Arana, a soft-spoken former Roman Catholic priest who has rallied to stop construction of the biggest mine in Peruvian history, reported the beating via Twitter. It was corroborated by his lawyer. Local TV showed photographs of Arana being taken away by police in the northern city of Cajamarca.
"They detained me and beat me a lot, inside the police station they beat me again - punches in the face, the kidneys and insults," he said via Twitter.
Arana is widely thought to have presidential ambitions. He and his allies on the left say President Ollanta Humala has drifted too far to the right since taking office and has put the interests of global miners ahead of poor peasants.
Humala, a former military officer, says the mine proposed by the U.S. company would generate thousands of jobs and huge tax revenues. Protesters say it would cause pollution, hurt water supplies and fail to bring local economic benefits.
Opposition lawmakers and local human rights groups denounced Arana's detention as part of a harsh crackdown by Humala - who took office a year ago urging mediation to solve hundreds of disputes nationwide over natural resources but has been quick to suspend civil liberties to quell protests.
Freedom of assembly was suspended in Cajamarca late on Tuesday, at least the third time Humala has employed such emergency measures in Peru. Humala also arrested a mayor in the southern region of Cusco in May for leading a protest against global miner Xstrata.
"What we have here is a repressive attitude, which is violating the rule of law, and an intelligence service that is working for the mining sector," said Congressman Jorge Rimarachin, who once supported Humala but has defected from his party. "This is totally unacceptable."
Members of Humala's party blamed Arana and another strident foe of the mine - Gregorio Santos, the president of Cajamarca region - for inciting violence at a rally of 2,000 people on Tuesday where protesters threw rocks and vandalized public buildings.
"The only person responsible for this is Mr. Santos," said lawmaker Teofilo Gamarra of Humala's Gana Peru party.
Official data shows that at least 13 people have died during Humala's term in protests over natural resources, compared with 174 who were killed in similar circumstances from 2006 to 2011 on the watch of his predecessor, Alan Garcia.
Newmont's project in Cajamarca, known as Conga, is partly owned by local miner Buenaventura and would produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold annually. Conga would essentially replace the nearby Yanacocha mine run by Newmont and Buenaventura that is nearing the end of its life.
Protesters expressed outrage on Tuesday that Humala gave the miner permission a week ago to proceed with construction of the project after Newmont agreed to comply with a more stringent environmental mitigation plan recommended by outside experts.
Newmont has agreed to build larger reservoirs that would replace two or more in a string of alpine lakes and guarantee year-round water supplies in towns that suffer during the dry season. It started work on those reservoirs over the weekend after nearly all construction work on the mine had been stopped since November because of protests.
The company's local office said on Tuesday the violence was unfortunate, but said it was "reaffirming its commitment to Cajamarca."
Peru, which has vast mineral resources, is the world's second-largest producer of copper and sixth of gold, but many mining communities suffer from widespread poverty and complain a decade-long economic boom has passed them by.
(Reporting By Terry Wade and Marco Aquino; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)