Tuesday, September 10, 2013

AP: Romania Prime Minister Backs Down on Controversial Gold Mine Project

Romania's prime minister predicted Monday that Parliament will reject plans for Canadian-run gold mine following large protests over the cyanide used in its extraction process.

Victor Ponta said he would look for other ways to find jobs in the deprived area where Canadian company Gabriel Resources has been trying to get permits to build what would be the biggest gold mine in Europe. The project would have involved razing four mountains near the town of Rosia Montana to make way for the open pit mine.

The countryside around Rosia Montana, in northwest Romania, is designated an area of "special national interest" and the country's parliament would have to pass legislation to approve the mining project, which would have created much-needed foreign investment and jobs in the deprived area.

Thousands of Romanians have protested this week, both for and against the proposed mine. Supporters say it would bring foreign investment and jobs, but opponents — who have held the largest protests — say the extraction process would be too big an environmental risk.

The leaders of the country's two other main political parties said Monday they oppose the project. No date has been set for Parliament's vote.

Gabriel Resources said in a statement that if Parliament rejects the legislation, it would assess what recourse is open to it, including suing Romania for "multiple breaches of international investment treaties." The news sent the company's shares tumbling by 48 percent on the Toronto stock exchange.

The company also said it was urgently seeking confirmation of statements made in Bucharest and clarification of the impact on the project.

Anti-mine protesters have said the project would hand over Romania's assets to the Canadian company and the country would earn too little from the deal.

Ponta has acknowledged that his government could be sued by Gabriel Resources, but he said Monday that he and his Cabinet ministers don't want to be held responsible for "undermining the national economy."

President Traian Basescu and Ponta have accused each other of illicitly taking money to support the proposed mine. But Basescu, who once strongly supported the project, last week announced that he would take a neutral stance on the legislation.

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