Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Romanians continue protest against gold mine

(Reuters) - Roughly 1,000 people gathered in Romania's capital late on Tuesday for a third day of protests against plans to start an open-cast gold mine in the small Carpathian town of Rosia Montana.

The catalyst for the protests, which started on Sunday when thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Romania, was a move by the leftist government last week to approve a draft bill allowing the project to go ahead.

The bill, which needs parliament's approval to take effect, allows Canada's Gabriel Resources Ltd to mine 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver through its local arm, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) in which the Romanian state also holds a minority stake.

The bill also gives the mine "special national interest" status, which will make it easier for RMGC to expropriate the few locals who oppose the project and who own land needed for the mine, a move critics have said is unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked the Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) in downtown Bucharest, banging plastic bottles on the pavement and setting up tents. Riot police surrounded them. The protests, which have been promoted through social media, have so far been largely peaceful.

"Fundamental laws are being broken for a foreign corporation to start operation," said Vladimir Bortun, a 27-year-old independent publicist and translator who has attended all the protests. "We have very few means of expression left."

Bortun said protesters planned on writing their parliamentarians asking them to reject the bill.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Traian Basescu told reporters he welcomed a debate in parliament on the project, which has been kicking around for 14 years.

Mine supporters, which include Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, say the project could bring billions of euros in taxes and many jobs to an economically depressed region.

Environmental and civic right groups have fiercely opposed it, saying it could lead to an ecological disaster.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Radu Sigheti; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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