A 77-year-old man shot dead two environmental protesters on Wednesday in an apparent outburst of rage over a roadblock in Panama.
The gunman was named in local media as Kenneth Franklin Darlington Salas. If he is convicted, Mr Salas could be sentenced to house arrest rather than being sent to jail because of his age.
The protesters, who were opposed to a controversial mining contract, had blocked the Pan-American Highway in Chame, 51 miles from the capital Panama City.
Footage posted on social media showed the motorist walking from his car, demanding the protesters get out of the road.
Initially, Mr Salas removed tyres which were obstructing the road. The protesters, according to witnesses, shouted at the man: “Are you going to kill someone?”
The gunman replied: “You want to be the first?”
He opened fire, first shooting a protester holding a flag and then a second man who went to confront him, before walking off and removing tree trunks that had been blocking the road. He was then arrested.
Local media identified the victims as Abdiel Diaz, a teacher and union activist, and Ivan Mendoza.
The deaths are the first fatalities in protests that broke out on October 20 against a contract that allows Canada-based First Quantum Minerals to operate Central America’s biggest open pit copper mine for at least another 20 years.
The site, in the jungle to the west of the capital, is considered environmentally sensitive.
In an effort to calm tempers, congress last week passed a law that imposes a moratorium on new metal mining contracts and left it up to the Supreme Court to decide on whether to allow the contract with First Quantum Minerals.
Environmentalists have welcomed this decision by lawmakers, saying indeed it is the court that should rule on whether the contract violates the constitution.
But a powerful construction union called Suntracs, teachers unions and other organisations want the contract to be annulled through a law passed by Congress, so they are continuing their protests.
Panama-America said Mr Salas was born in Colon and had been a teacher at several universities.
Mr Salas was previously arrested in 2005 after weapons – including an AK-47 and M-16 – were found in his flat. He was later acquitted after a court accepted his plea that they were merely part of a collection.
He was employed as a spokesman for Marc Harris, a Panamanian accountant who was jailed for 17 years in 2004 after being convicted of money laundering and tax evasion.
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