‘‘The region of southeast Europe is a focal point of our future business, and Greece is a major component of that strategy,’’ Eldorado CEO Paul Wright said in Athens in December 2011. ‘‘The northeast of Greece is very, very prospective.’’
The four mines are expected to account for about a quarter of the company’s total future gold production. ‘‘The investment is very important, because if it succeeds it'll open the road to other investments that Greece needs so much,’’ said Hellas Gold communications officer Kostas Georgantzis.
But the project has deeply divided local communities, and several recent demonstrations by between 400 to 1,000 people, according to protesters, have turned violent, with riot police firing tear gas and fighting running battles through the woods.
About five villages whose residents are employed by the mines are firmly behind the project, with the main center of support in the village of Stratoni. Those against draw on support from about 10 outlying villages, mine opponents say, with the center of protests focused in the village of Ierissos. Opponents say their cause is backed by scores of residents in much of the rest of Halkidiki, a tourist area popular with foreign and Greek visitors in the summer.
So far work has progressed as far as forest clearance. Eldorado says the pit will only be in operation for about seven years, after which it will be filled over and replanted.
Opponents are not impressed.
The anti-gold movement has appealed to the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, to have the project stopped, armed with environmental studies from Thessaloniki University and petitions from pressure groups such as hoteliers’ associations and statements by the Technical Chamber of Greece, a scientific advisory body to the state.
‘‘Most of the area is ... forest which is at least 300 years old, without ever having been violated,’’ said Tolis Papageorgiou, a member of the local opposition group.
Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.