PANAMA CITY, July 9 (Reuters) - Striking Panama banana workers held four police officers hostage on Friday in escalating labor protests that left one dead in clashes with riot police, authorities said.
The office of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said banana plantation workers on strike in western Panama seized the police officers during two days of confrontations in Changuinola to protest a new law that weakens unions.
At least one man died on Thursday as police firing tear-gas and buckshot battled strikers who had blocked area roads with felled trees. Hospital authorities said 102 people had been treated for injuries by early on Friday.
The unrest comes after Martinelli signed a law last month that dents union power and gives companies the right to suspend the contracts of striking workers and hire replacements.
In a separate incident a day earlier, 48 striking workers on a $5.25-billion project to widen and deepen the Panama Canal were fired and at least six were arrested after refusing to return to work.
The Panama Canal remained open throughout the dispute. (Reporting by Sean Mattson in Panama City; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Vicki Allen)