Video footage from the May 8, 2013 “encounter” between residents of Halkidiki and the riot police on mount Kakavos. Riot police squads are blocking the main access to the mountain so that Hellas Gold, a subsidiary of Vancouver’s Eldorado Gold, can continue clearing the forest in preparation of the Skouries open-pit mine and related facilities. Policemen can be seen throwing rocks and pointing teargas launchers towards protesters who were no more than 30 meters away.
This kind of stand-offs are frequent in the Skouries area where local residents have been demonstrating against the mining project for more than a year, ever since Eldorado Gold set up camp and started cutting the forest. As the destruction of the forest progressed and the movement opposing the mine kept growing, crack-down of demonstrations by the police has become increasingly violent. Read Amnesty International’s reports here and here.
For the past few months, northeastern Halkidiki has been under police occupation. All mine facilities and work sites are heavily guarded by the Hellenic Police, which is paid by the Greek taxpayer but used as private security for Eldorado Gold. Around 85-90 policemen are deployed on a daily basis for the protection of the mining company and the number rises to several hundreds every time there’s a programmed anti-mining demonstration. As representatives of the police employees’ association recently denounced to the media (here), local policemen are driven to exhaustion, while the movement of police forces into Halkidiki from other areas has left parts of northern Greece without adequate police coverage. “Social and political problems can’t be solved through police action” they said, “because, as recent history demonstrates, this gives rise to new problems”. The government however seems to believe it can impose by force a project that is unwanted by the vast majority of the local population.
The area that is now being deforested is “Karatzas”, a steep mountain valley where Eldorado Gold plans to build the first of the two facilities for the storage of tailings from the Skouries mine. This is a highly criticized part of the whole plan. Residents and independent scientists question whether the 143-metre high dam, built of earth and waste rock, can withstand the heavy rainfalls and frequent strong earthquakes registered in the area. Furthermore, Karatzas is one of the major streams that carry fresh water from the mountain to downstream communities so there’s a very real threat to water resources.
The legality of Eldorado’s activities at Skouries is also questioned. Although the project has been granted an environmental approval in July 2011, the company still needs to acquire a number of permits and licenses in order to proceed with construction of the mine, plant, and tailings facilities. In the case of “Karatzas”, Eldorado has neither the Technical Study approval nor the special forest service approval required by law. Also, before cutting off the existing road network, the company should have constructed a diversion in order to ensure free citizen access to the mountain.
On April 23, 2013, the Head of the local Forest Department promised to examine whether forest removal in the Karatzas area was in accordance with the company’s permits. More than two weeks later, the Forest Department hasn’t yet responded while the destruction of forest continues rapidly, under police protection. Even before actual mining begins, the State has demonstrated its inability and unwillingness to monitor and regulate Eldorado’s actions.
Legal action will be taken by citizens against the Forest Department and other competent authorities.