Protest groups target Angloand Rio Tinto meetings

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The Independent Online

Two of the world's biggest mining companies endured a barrage of protests yesterday, as a broad coalition of unions, individuals, social and environmental groups from as far afield as South Africa and Mongolia travelled to London for Rio Tinto and Anglo American's annual meetings.

First up was Rio Tinto, where protesters wearing cardboard gold medals labelled "Don't let Rio Tinto tarnish the Olympics" greeted shareholders. The protesters are angry that the miner is a key sponsor of the 2012 Olympics and is providing the gold, silver and bronze for the Games' 4,700 medals – a total of eight tonnes – from its mines in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Mongolia.

Alexandra Allred, a former US bobsled champion, attended with a "Utah Moms for Clean Air" banner. Zanaa Jurmed, who travelled from Mongolia for the meeting, said: "There is an increasing lack of water around the mine in Mongolia as Rio Tinto sucks up the underground water."

Rio said: "In Salt Lake City, Rio Tinto operates strictly within the parameters of its air permits and complies with federal and state air quality regulations... [In Mongolia] Rio has committed to zero impact on community water sources."

At Anglo American's AGM, Daniel Seabata Thakamakau, a 66-year-old South African, called on the company to help him and other former gold miners now suffering from lung diseases who had worked between the 1960s and 1990s in mines Anglo had stakes in. About 1,200 former SA gold miners suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis are bringing a case against it in the High Court in London next month.

Sir John Parker, Anglo's chairman, told the AGM: "We do not believe we are liable in any way for these claims and are defending this action." Anglo, which spent £19m on health and social programmes in South Africa last year, says that its business there only had a minority interest in the miners operating the gold mines, and those firms were responsible for the health and safety of their employees.