‘Civil war’ brew­ing over a con­tro­ver­sial gold­mine in Greece

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY VAS­SILIS KYRIAKOULIS

Scrawled on the homes of the vil­lage of Me­gali Pana­gia in north­ern Greece are slo­gans em­blem­atic of the deep rift caused in this so­ci­ety by a con­tro­ver­sial Canadian gold min­ing project.

For the past three years, the in­vest­ment of Hel­lenic Gold — a sub­sidiary of Canadian firm El­do­rado Gold — has deeply di­vided the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties of the Halkidiki penin­sula, even set­ting fam­ily mem­bers at each oth­ers’ throats.

In Me­gali Pana­gia it­self, tit­for- tat at­tacks on shops and cars be­long­ing to ri­val fac­tions have been go­ing on for years.

Un­til now, most of the demon­stra­tions were by res­i­dents fear­ing that the project will cause ir­re­versible harm to the forested Halkidiki penin­sula, one of Greece’s most popular tourist ar­eas.

But the ar­rival in Jan­uary of a new left­ist gov­ern­ment that op­poses the in­vest­ment has sparked a mo­bi­liza­tion among Hel­lenic Gold em­ploy­ees afraid of los­ing their jobs.

Ear­lier this month, riot po­lice were sent in when the ri­val groups came close to clash­ing in an oak for­est be­tween the vil­lages of Stra­toni, where Hel­lenic Gold has its base, and Ieris­sos, which op­poses the project.

‘ There will be blood’

Po­lice Min­is­ter Yiannis Panousis later said some of the pro­test­ers were fir­ing bolts from sling­shots.

Panousis warned “there will be ca­su­al­ties” un­less the sit­u­a­tion is re­solved.

The new left­ist gov­ern­ment has clearly de­clared its op­po­si­tion to the project, with En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Pana­gi­o­tis Lafaza­nis re­cently pledg­ing to “em­ploy all pos­si­ble legal means” to halt it.

Af­ter the lat­est protest Lafaza­nis went fur­ther, ac­cus­ing the com­pany of act­ing “as a state within a state” and mo­bi­liz­ing its staff to cause vi­o­lence.

In a sim­i­lar vein, the daily news­pa­per of the rul­ing Syriza party, Avgi, branded the pro- testing min­ers “mer­ce­nar­ies.”

The mine em­ploy­ees, who plan to protest in Athens on April 16, counter that it is they who have faced in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence from the so- called en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tion since the project was first an­nounced in 2011.

In the town of Ieris­sos, where most res­i­dents op­pose the project, fam­i­lies of min­ers live in a “cli­mate of ter­ror,” says their union rep­re­sen­ta­tive Chris­tos Zafeiroudas.

In 2012, dozens of min­ers trashed an ob­ser­va­tion post manned by anti- mine ac­tivists in the moun­tain of Sk­ouries, near a planned ex­pan­sion site of the mine project.

In turn, in a pre- dawn raid in 2013, hooded mil­i­tants threw Molo­tov cock­tails at the mine work­site, wound­ing a guard and dam­ag­ing equip­ment.

The po­lice sta­tion of Ieris­sos was later ran­sacked af­ter two lo­cal men were ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of par­tic­i­pat­ing in that attack.

The min­is­ter in charge at the time said the anti- mine pro­test­ers saw them­selves as real- life ver­sions of the feisty Gauls that take on the Ro­man Em­pire in the As­terix comic books.

Hel­lenic Gold says it plans to in­vest 1.3 bil­lion eu­ros ( US$ 1.38 bil­lion) in the area over­all, and ex­tract 9.6 mil­lion ounces of gold.

Its op­er­a­tions, it says, have been re­peat­edly vet­ted and cleared by the au­thor­i­ties.

Anti- mine pro­test­ers claim the project will cause ir­re­versible harm to the en­vi­ron­ment, drain­ing and con­tam­i­nat­ing lo­cal wa­ter re­serves and fill­ing the air with haz­ardous chem­i­cals in­clud­ing lead, cad­mium, ar­senic and mer­cury.

It is likely to also af­fect the area’s agri­cul­tural and tourism econ­omy, they say.

The pre­vi­ous con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment had sup­ported the in­vest­ment, ar­gu­ing that it would cre­ate hun­dreds of jobs in the re­ces­sion- hit coun­try where the un­em­ploy­ment rate now stands at more than 25 per­cent.

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