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Greek activists travel to Vancouver to protest gold mine proposal

Greek activists came to Vancouver last week to highlight the social and environmental impacts of a Canadian mining company's activities abroad in the region of Halkidiki, which happens to be the homeland of Aristotle.

Eldorado Gold is planning to build a combination of open-pit and underground gold mines on Mount Kakavos, which, according to activists and Mining Watch Canada, holds the largest fresh water reserves in the Halkidiki peninsula.

In the last stretch of a four-city tour that included Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, activists set up in front of Eldorado Gold Corporation's headquarters in downtown Vancouver on Friday to read a letter to the company's president.

Maria Kadoglou, a physicist that works for Helenic Mining Watch and a resident of Halkidiki, said that people have opposed the project since before it was approved, but that conditions have deteriorated dramatically since Eldorado Gold took over the property where the mines will be built in February 2012.

Several small mining operations are already ongoing in the area, but Eldorado's plans would significantly increase mining activity in the region.

Mining Watch Canada said the project requires the removal of 410 hectares of forest and threatens water reserves in the peninsula -- which, according to Kadoglou, is the main supply source for surrounding communities and a key draw for tourism, the basic economic activity of the region.

A spokesperson for Eldorado Gold was not available to speak to The Tyee*, but according to a company document, the project only requires an area of 180 hectares, which, the company says, represents 0.09 per cent of the Halkidiki forest land. Eldorado Gold also pledges to continuously monitor and manage water use and quality near its Greek operations.

A report by Mining Watch Canada said that in October 2012, police clashed with over 2,500 protesters in the region, and that citizens reported false arrests and police brutality. Kadoglou described the situation as "explosive," adding that the disputes have escalated in the last three months.

Greece is currently facing a deep economic crisis, but according to Mining Watch Canada, Greek mining regulations state that the company has full possession of the minerals contained in the land granted, and no royalties will be paid to the Greek state.

Tolis Papageorgiou, a retired man from Halkidiki who was part of the demonstration, said the project will cost the region over 2,500 jobs that depend on tourism. 

But Eldorado estimates its operations will provide more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs for the communities surrounding its mines, where, it says, the unemployment rate averaged 25 per cent during the past year.

"We have many jobs, but they will be lost because of the mine," said Papageorgiou. "Nobody comes to a place with metallurgic plants to swim."

According to Papageorgiou, there are 16 villages around the mine, with a total population of 20,000.

"Our villages are small and we don't have water and the mines are for 10 years, 15 years, and then?" he added.

The Vancouver demonstration was short and just a few people stopped to watch, but Kadoglou remains hopeful that she can put Greece on the map and create awareness among Canadians. 

"We have a multinational corporation that is taking advantage of the weak government, with weak laws and weak law enforcement, in order to achieve its plans," concluded Kadoglou.

*Update: At 4:30 p.m. today, The Tyee was contacted by Nancy Woo, vice president of investor relations for Eldorado Gold, who confirmed the numbers released by Eldorado in a report that was published in their website at the beginning of the year. She added that out of the 16 villages surrounding the mine, four oppose the project, but that every village had voted in favour of the mine during consultations.

On the matter of possible environmental damage, Woo stated that Eldorado has never had a major environmental incident in any of its operations and that there is no reason to assume that the area would become industrial with the launch of the new operation.

Woo also said that the demonstrators were offered a meeting on Friday, but that they had refused to meet with representatives from the mining company.

Aurora Tejeida is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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