Protests have erupted in the mining town of Obuasi, Ghana, as up to 300 gold miners remain underground at an AngloGold Ashanti mine due to fear of arrest if they exit.

Heavily armed police officers have fired shots at protesting crowds, according to footage taken by Al Jazeera. 

The illegal, or artisanal, miners entered the mine on or around Monday, and more than 80 have chosen to leave and been immediately arrested by Ghanian police forces.  

In a statement to Mining Technology, AngloGold Ashanti said that “the main exit ramp from the mine, which is remote from the currently active working areas of the mine, remains open, allowing any unauthorised persons underground to exit at any time”. 

It remains disputed whether those still in the mine are unable or unwilling to exit the mine. Relatives of those in the mine say that they have been left without food and water for days. 

In a statement, AngloGold Ashanti says that it is “aware of media reports alleging that illegal miners may have been trapped underground in the northern areas of the mine, remote from current active mining areas”.  

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Around one million people in Ghana mine without a licence, with around 85% of small-scale mining taking place illegally. Rising unemployment and poverty in the country are pushing larger numbers of people into the practice.  

One individual told Al Jazeera at the scene that “there is no other job in the area, so we depend on mining for a living”. Obuasi mayor Faustina Amissah also told reporters that soldiers had been deployed to quell protestors. 

Locals claim that the police are demanding $2,700 per person for their release. 

“It’s our land but now AngloGold has taken all our land. We have no space to farm, no space to bury our dead,” Obuasi resident Kewku Danso told Al Jazeera

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has pledged to end the practice of illegal mining since 2017 under the country’s Minerals and Mining Act.