Greek police station wrecked amid opposition to gold mine

A group of villagers trashed a police station in northeastern Greece early on Wednesday after two suspects were arrested for attacking a Canadian gold mining site, officials said.

"A group burst in and wrecked the police station" in Ierissos village, Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said on Skai radio.

Residents claim police used force when arresting the two suspects in the February attack on the work site of Hellenic Gold, a subsidiary of Canadian firm Eldorado Gold, a police source told AFP.

Several hundred opponents of the project later protested outside a tribunal in the neighbouring town of Polygyros, shouting anti-police slogans and demanding the release of the suspects.

"Riot police and security officers are the real hooligans," the crowd chanted.

The arrests occurred around 3:00 am (2400 GMT).

An unidentified group of angry villagers then marched to the unstaffed police station, breaking doors and windows as well as setting a fire that damaged furniture, documents, computers and other items, the police source said.

Dendias told Skai that police made the arrests before dawn in order to avoid trouble after violent clashes erupted during a previous police operation in March over the Hellenic Gold attack that left a guard injured and equipment damaged.

He said the protesters saw themselves as real-life versions of the feisty Gauls that take on the Roman Empire in the Asterix comic books.

"We are facing opposition from a section of the local community that wants to impose its own law and operate like a Gaulish village, it's not possible," Dendias told the station.

The minister said the two village suspects face several charges including "forming a criminal organisation, attempted murder and use of explosives." The February attack was led by a group of 40 people, most of them masked.

Tension in the region has been ongoing over opposition to the gold mining project which locals say will cause irreversible damage to the environment.

Citizens' groups, backed by radical leftist party Syriza which is the second largest in parliament, have been trying to halt the mining project since 2011, when the Greek government allowed Hellenic Gold to dig in the northern Halkidiki peninsula.

Local authorities support the project, which is expected to create hundreds of jobs in the recession-hit country where the unemployment rate has reached 27 percent.

Critics say the project will drain and contaminate local water reserves and spread hazardous chemicals, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.

Despite frequent protests in recent months in Athens and Greece's second city Thessaloniki, the Canadian firm last week announced its intention to remain in the country and create thousands of jobs over the next two years.

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