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Mineral wealth dominates Greenland election

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Greenland votes Tuesday in an election focused on the vast Arctic island's untapped mineral resources that promises to be a close race between incumbent Prime Minister, left-winger Kuupik Kleist and social democrat Aleqa Hammond.

The election, called by Kleist after four years in power, takes place as the self-governing Danish territory begins to take centre stage in the hunt for some of the world’s rarest earth minerals.

Polls on the island -- which despite its huge size, has only 57,000 inhabitants -- have mostly put Kleist, leader of the Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) party, neck and neck with his Siumut party rival.

Though Greenland is still predominantly covered in permafrost, the gradual melting of its glaciers means hitherto untapped resources are becoming more accessible.

Though both candidates agree that the territory's natural resources need exploiting, their difference in opinion over how to do it could determine who wins.

Kleist is keen to attract foreign investment to the potentially mineral-rich country, recently pushing through legislation known as the "Large-Scale" law which gives special rights to foreign companies investing more than five billion kroner (670 million euros, $873 million) in big mining projects.

"We can no longer base our economy on fisheries alone. We must get the mineral sector and industry moving," Kleist told reporters in the capital Nuuk, according to the website of weekly newspaper Sermitsiaq.

But his rival Hammond says the country needs to ensure it benefits from government revenue raised from natural resources that include rare earth minerals, uranium and oil.

"The most important thing for us is to introduce royalties on our raw materials. Siumut is canvassing for greater demands on foreign companies," Hammond told reporters, adding that her party wanted more democratic involvement for all Greenlanders, including those in sparse settlements in outlying regions.

The law has worried some critics in Copenhagen, which sees it as tailoring employment laws to the needs of investors in China, who plan to introduce some 2,000 Chinese workers into new mining ventures.

Kleist told AFP last month that the new law was fully in keeping with all international conventions.

The electoral race has been considered a tight one though the latest poll on Saturday of 1,817 voters, or 4.5 percent of the electorate, gave Hammond's Siumut party a surprise clear lead over IA, with 45.2 percent of the vote compared to 32.3 percent for Kleist’s party.

The Social Liberal Demokraatit party garnered 7.9 percent, the Inuit party 7.4 percent and the liberal Atassut party had 6.3 percent of the vote.

Greenland’s 31-member legislature has full control over its natural resources, under a 2009 extended self-rule act.

Meanwhile Denmark, which transfers over three billion kroner in subsidies to the territory each year, maintains control of foreign policy and defence.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130311/mineral-wealth-dominates-greenland-election