By DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold said Tuesday it is suspending work at a site in Greece and laying off 600 workers following protests by local residents and a spat with the country’s leftwing government.
The Vancouver, Canada-based company said it was halting operations at a gold mine at Skouries, on the Halkidiki peninsula, one of four major Greek sites where the company is involved.
CEO Paul Wright said a further 500 jobs were also likely to be cut later in the year.
Wright accused the government of holding up permits and using the mining project as a “political toy” but insisted the company had no plans to pull out of Greece and hoped to restart work at Skouries at a later date.
“It’s not dissimilar to building a kitchen and putting in the floor and furniture but not being allowed to put in a wall and roof over it. It’s a bit silly,” Wright told a news conference in Athens.
Wright said his company had invested $700 million (645 million euros) and created 2,000 jobs, but added that it was willing to negotiate royalty payments for gold being extracted that were not included in the original agreements made with the Greek state.
Elected a year ago, the leftwing government has expressed support for protest groups near Skouries who oppose the project on environmental grounds and fear it will hurt tourism. The protests included road blockades, violent confrontations with police and a 2013 arson attack on Eldorado facilities at Skouries.
Environment Minister Panos Skoutletis said Wright had made the announcement after rescheduling meetings with the government for later in the week.
“The Canadian company is trying to change facts on the ground — that is provocative behavior,” he said.
“The government will not be blackmailed. The decisions it takes will be based on public interest, environmental protection, and will be taken after studying all the facts.”
Later Tuesday, the environment ministry said it was imposing a total 1.7 million euros ($1.84 million) in fines on Hellas Gold, a Greek subsidiary of the company, for a total 21 alleged breaches of environmental safety regulations.
It said the alleged breaches were committed between 2012 and mid-2014.