EFELima

Southern Copper Corp. has announced a 60-day "pause" in its protest-racked Tia Maria mining project after Peruvian President Ollanta Humala called on the company to do more to win over popular support.

Southern Copper CEO Oscar Gonzalez Rocha said the pause would allow all parties involved to "present their concerns and fears, identify solutions ... and define the responsibilities that all must assume in a reasonable timeframe."

The announcement came shortly after Humala ruled out unilaterally suspending the project, noting Friday that such a move could prompt a lawsuit and saying that any decision must be taken by the company.

Residents of Islay, a province in the southern Peruvian region of Arequipa, have held 55 days of protests against Tia Maria, saying it will contaminate crops and the Tambo River and put pressure on water supplies. The company has tried to allay those concerns by pledging to operate the mine using desalinated seawater.

Southern Copper, a unit of Mexican mining giant Grupo Mexico, plans to invest some $1.4 billion in the construction of Tia Maria, which is projected to produce 120,000 metric tons of copper cathodes annually from the start of operations.

On Friday, Peruvian authorities arrested one of the leaders of the protests against Tia Maria, Pepe Julio Gutierrez, who is accused of soliciting a bribe in exchange for ending the protests, which have left three dead and more than 200 injured.

Humala's administration also has said it may initiate legal action against Southern if it finds evidence that it covered up the alleged crime.