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Canadian government aims to support First Quantum after mine closure order -minister

FILE PHOTO: Panama government's media tour to Cobre Panama mine, in Donoso

(This Feb. 6 story has been corrected to change 'closure' to 'closure order' in the headline and in paragraphs 1 and 6)

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government will do its best to support First Quantum Mineral, the trade minister said on Tuesday without elaborating, as the Canadian miner deals with the fallout from the closure order for its flagship copper mine in Panama.

"First Quantum Mineral is a really important Canadian company," Trade Minister Mary Ng told reporters in Ottawa.

"I've met with them, I continue to meet with them, and really, I'm really looking to supporting the Canadian company ... as best as we can," Ng said.

Large protests erupted last year against First Quantum's contract to operate a lucrative Cobre Panama mine that was approved by the Panama government in October. Protesters argued it was too favorable to the Vancouver-based company.

In November, the Central American country's top court ruled the contract unconstitutional, prompting the government to order the mine to shut down.

The Panama copper mine accounted for about 40% of First Quantum's revenue and the closure order led to a near-halving of the company's market value.

First Quantum is now exploring options to "manage its balance sheet," which include selling smaller mines, bringing strategic investors into its larger mines and evaluating ways to raise funds. It has also initiated international arbitration over the contested Cobre Panama contract.

Ng said Ottawa was monitoring the situation closely and she had been in contact with her Panamanian counterpart about First Quantum.

"I will stand up for Canadian companies where they operate, and First Quantum has operated in Panama for many years," Ng said.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, editing by Deepa Babington)