The clashes occurred as hundreds of people remained trapped in the mines, unable or unwilling to resurface for fear of being arrested.
Heavily armed soldiers opened fire to disperse protesters during a military crackdown on miners the government considers illegal in the gold mining town of Obuasi in Ghana’s Ashanti region.
Authorities arrested seven illegal miners on Monday for exiting the mine shafts of AngloGold, one of the world’s largest gold mining companies, the company said.
Then on Tuesday, reports trickled in that hundreds of other miners were trapped underground. It’s unclear if those still underground were unable or reluctant to get out.
Relatives said the miners were trapped without food and water for days. The family told Al Jazeera that dozens of the fleeing people have been arrested for working illegally in the area, adding that police are seeking a cash payment for their release.
“My husband is one of those trapped,” a woman who did not want to be named told Al Jazeera. “There are no other jobs in the area, so we make a living mining.”
Police are demanding $2,700 each for their release, she said.
One man told Al Jazeera he could hear people still underground screaming. “They are dying!” he said. “What’s wrong with people working to make ends meet?”
AngloGold said in a statement on Tuesday that “unauthorized persons will be able to exit the basement.”
“No one has been trapped underground and the main exit ramp from the mine remains open,” the group said, according to AFP news agency.
clash breaks out
On Tuesday, residents began to gather outside the local police station, chanting slogans, burning car tires and blocking roads.
The town’s mayor, Faustina Amissa, confirmed that the soldiers had been deployed.
“Since there was chaos, security officials took legal action to keep the peace,” she said, adding that demonstrators “destroyed a bus carrying 52 suspects on their way to the police station.” added.
A local journalist sent footage of heavily armed soldiers on the streets of Obuasi to AFP, saying they had to “hide”.
Neither police nor the military have commented.
Illegal mining is prevalent in the West African country, and many people in impoverished areas see it as a way of making a living.
Since taking office in 2017, President Nana Akufo-Addo has pledged to eradicate the country from garamsey, a term locals call illegal mining.
Authorities regularly crack down on illegal sites and confiscate excavators, but the practice continues.
The Obuasi mine extends 1,500 meters (about 5,000 feet) underground and produced 250,000 troy ounces (7,776 kg) of gold last year.