Thousands Protest “Toxic” Greek Gold Mine

Protesters march in Thessaloniki against a gold mining project in Halkidiki peninsula, on Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

THESSALONIKI, Greece – More than 5,000 turned out in a street protest here against a gold mine project planned for northern Greece that critics said is “toxic” and will harm the environment and tourism, but which the government said will bring in desperately-needed cash during a crushing economic crisis.

The site is in nearby Skouries, which is on the Halkidiki peninsula, which has been the scene of violent protests, unlike the peaceful rally in the country’s second-largest city. Such is the strength of the opposition that the critics said they don’t buy the government’s arguments about the project helping the economy and bringing in jobs when there is a record 27.6 percent unemployment rate.

Protesters, chanting slogans against the conservative-led coalition government and the Canadian gold-mining firm that is in charge of the environmentally contentious project, marched to the headquarters of Thessaloniki-based now-defunct state broadcaster ET3 in solidarity with dismissed staff who have been occupying the premises for the past few months since a government-imposed shutdown.

Protesters carried a banner reading “Toxic dust doesn’t have boundaries. No to gold mines” in Thessaloniki, while in Athens, 500 more gathered to shout slogans denouncing police brutality they allege was directed at those who have taken action against the mine.

Opponents of the venture in Lerissos, a village on the tourist-friendly Halkidiki peninsula, believe it could poison groundwater supplies in the area, AFP said.

Violent resistance has broken out repeatedly since government permission to break ground on the project was granted in 2011 to Hellenic Gold, a Greek subsidiary of Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold. In February militants threw Molotov cocktails at the site, wounding a guard and damaging equipment.

This was followed two months later by the ransacking of the local police station in retaliation for what inhabitants saw as excessive force used in the arrest of two suspects connected with the previous attack.

More than 200 people in the region around the mine are due in court on criminal charges connected with the demonstrations, leading to accusations that the authorities have criminalized the protest movement.

Anti-mine activists claim it will poison local water supplies with mercury, lead and arsenic, but the government says the venture could create hundreds of jobs in a country with an unemployment rate of 27 percent.