Tensions flared again in north-eastern Halkidiki this week when the prosecutor and the investigating magistrate in charge of the arson attack case against the Hellas Gold mining worksite on 17 February 2013 ordered that another two residents of Ierissos be held in remand. The court case for this arson attack identifies 20 people as suspects, of which two were being already held in pretrial detention. The latest arrests bring the total to 4.
According to Hellenic Mining Watch, the so-called indications of guilt for the two men who were arrested are flimsy at best, as one of them was in Mount Athos on the night of 17 February, while the charge against the other is that he had ten unanswered phone calls on his mobile phone.
The news that the two men would be held on remand caused clashes outside the courthouse of the regional capital, Polygyros, where police threw teargas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd. The 15-year-old son of one of the two arrestees was arrested for assaulting the police upon hearing the news of his father imprisonment, while his grandfather was beaten by the riot police. Clashes later took place in and around the village of Megali Panagia, where tear gas canisters shot by the police set several trees of the surrounding forest on fire. A 73-year-old resident who was severely wounded during the clashes was arrested by the police .
The situation in north-eastern Halkidiki has been explosive for over a year due to a conflict between local residents and mining company Hellas Gold and its Canadian-based mother company Eldorado Gold. The mining companies want to develop a large-scale gold and copper mine in the area, in particular in the Skouries forest, an area of exceptional biodiversity and natural beauty. In this they have the support of the Greek government and political class, who claim that this type of foreign investment is part of the solution for the country to exit the crisis. Local residents and independent scientific organizations oppose the mining plans, saying that it would cause massive and irreparable damage to the environment and the local economy, while pointing out that the transfer of mining rights to Hellas Gold is a political and financial scandal.