Two killed in Panama protest as anti-government tensions rise

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Two people taking part in an anti-government protest in Panama were shot dead on Tuesday by an unknown assailant, authorities said, aggravating social tension that has welled up since anger over a lucrative mining contract sparked demonstrations.

The deaths come as street protests by thousands of Panamanians during the past weeks over a new mining contract signed with Canadian mining firm First Quantum Minerals spilled into wider discontent with the government.

One person has been arrested in connection with the deaths, state prosecutors said in a post on social media platform X, without giving further information about the individual.

Road blocks set up by protesters have caused up to $80 million in daily losses to businesses, according to Panama's association of company executives, with schools closed nationwide for over a week and more than 150,000 medical appointments missed.

The Association of Teachers of Panama (ASOPROF) said on X that the perpetrator of the shooting is a U.S. citizen, though this could not immediately be confirmed by the authorities.

Officials have urged people to end the protests, though construction workers' and teachers' unions have vowed to continue taking to the streets until the First Quantum contract is annulled.

The new contract, agreed on Oct. 20, was signed into law by Panama's government, and provides First Quantum a 20-year mining right with an option to extend for another 20 years, in return for $375 million in annual revenue to Panama.

While the government has said the new contract offers better terms than the previous one, protesters disagree.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Additional reporting by Valentine Hilaire in Mexico City; Writing by Isabel Woodford; Editing by Stephen Coates)