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Eldorado gets more Greek permits but standoff persists

Greece granted Eldorado Gold permits on Friday to operate one of its Greek projects in an effort to defuse a standoff with the Canadian mining firm which has threatened to suspend investment in the country.

Eldorado’s investment in northern Greece is among the biggest since the country’s debt crisis began and has long been viewed as test of its resolve to attract foreign capital.

But differences have dragged on for years, especially over compliance with environmental regulations, and Eldorado said on Friday it still wanted a permit for a second project before it would reconsider its investment freeze.

Local communities are divided over Eldorado’s projects. Workers fear jobs will be cut if the dispute is not resolved while others worry that the mining company’s plans would destroy the environment and tourism industry.

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Eldorado said on Monday it would freeze new investment at its Olympias and Skouries projects, as well as its Stratoni mine, from Sept. 22 unless it received outstanding permits and information about an arbitration process Greece has launched to settle their differences.

On Friday, the energy ministry published the approval of Eldorado’s technical study to shut down an old Olympias mine, and a installation permit for a paste plant there, making the project fully operational.

In a statement after the permits were issued, Eldorado said it would only reconsider its investment options once it received a permit for a flotation plant in Skouries and the government showed willingness for constructive discussions.

“This is another positive step forward. However, we are still waiting on the other matters, which we continue to believe can be resolved through good faith negotiations,” Eldorado Chief Executive George Burns said.

Addressing parliament on Friday, Energy Minister George Stathakis said no licences would be issued for Skouries before the arbitration. He said Eldorado’s investment plan failed to ensure that its Greek operations would be vertically integrated, at the expense of Greece’s national interests.

“As we speak, we don’t have a comprehensive investment plan. That’s the company’s fault,” Stathakis said. “All of you are aware that if the ores are exported, the Greek state’s benefit would be close to zero”.

While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party vehemently opposed the investment before it came to power, his government has since said it wants it, as long as it is environmentally and economically sound.

Stathakis said Eldorado “displayed a culture that insults the smooth functioning of a democratic European country,” following remarks by Burns in Kathimerini newspaper on Sunday suggesting Greece was giving investors inconsistent messages.

(Reuters)

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