By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian minister has likened a mining company blasting ancient rock shelters to the Taliban’s destruction of giant Buddha carvings and vowed to improve protections of Indigenous cultural heritage. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Rio Tinto acted lawfully in 2020 when it destroyed two rock shelters that had been inhabited for 46,000 years. She said Thursday that Australia’s laws would be updated to prevent future destruction of Indigenous sacred sites. The Taliban in 2001 destroyed two 1,500-year-old Buddha statues because the carvings in an Afghan cliff were considered to be idols. Rio Tinto demolished the rock shelters to gain the cheapest possible access to iron ore reserves. Four executives lost their jobs following outrage over the destruction.