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Gold firm to stay in Greece despite opposition

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold plans to stay in Greece and create thousands of jobs over the next two years despite opposition to its investment projects in the north of the country, company officials said on Tuesday.

"I don't know of any company that wants to pull out that has tripled its staff in less than a year," said Petros Stratoudakis, managing director of Eldorado Gold subsidiary Hellenic Gold.

"Does the Greek state want us? We are expressing our desire to stay," Stratoudakis told a news conference in Thessaloniki.

He said the company intended to add 3,000 staff to its workforce of around 1,200 over the next two years and invest three million euros ($3.8 million) this year.

Protests have been held in Athens and Thessaloniki over recent months against the government's decision to allow Hellenic Gold to dig in the northern Halkidiki peninsula, one of Greece's major tourist destinations.

Citizen groups, backed by the radical leftist party Syriza that is now the second largest in parliament, have been trying to scupper the project since 2011.

Another planned dig in Perama, in the northeastern region of Thrace, has also raised local opposition.

In February, dozens of hooded activists firebombed a Hellenic Gold worksite in Halkidiki injuring a guard and damaging equipment.

Critics say the project will not only drain and contaminate local water reserves but also fill the air with hazardous pollutants including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.

The company on Tuesday insisted it intends to use the most up-to-date environmental safeguards and blamed the opposition on a "vocal minority."

"We have 20 years of experience in safely operating and decommissioning goldmines worldwide," said Eduardo Moura, Eldorado Gold's general manager for Greece.

Moura noted that the local council of Aristotelis, the town closest to the Halkidiki dig, had approved the company's environmental impact assessment in 2010.

"This is one of the best environmental impact studies ever compiled in Greece," said Michalis Vavelidis, a geology lecturer at Thessaloniki's Aristotelio University.

"It follows European regulations which are more stringent that those in the United States, Canada or Australia," he said.

A picturesque and forested peninsula, Halkidiki is a popular destination for tourists, particularly from Russia and the neighbouring Balkan states.

Another Canadian company, TVX, began an operation in Halkidiki nearly two decades ago before pulling out in 2003.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130402/gold-firm-stay-greece-despite-opposition