Thousands of Romanians protest gold mine

Earlier this week Romania’s ruling party approved draft legislation on Europe’s would-be largest open-cast gold mine. On Sunday night, thousands of Romanians hit the streets to protest the government’s support.

The most controversial issue surrounding Canadian miner Gabriel Resources’ project is the company’s plan to use cyanide to extract gold and silver. According to one report the mine would use 40 tonnes of cyanide per day.

Gabriel has been waiting for government approval for more than a dozen years and Wednesday’s blessing was a major step forward for the company. The ruling Social Democratic Party pledged its support after negotiating a larger stake in the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation. Gabriel holds 80% of the shares but once construction starts, the state will own 25%.

Parliament is set to vote on the draft bill later this month.

Three-thousand protesters marched in Bucharest toward government headquarters on Sunday, holding banners reading “United for Rosia Montana” and “Our children don’t want cyanide,” Reuters reports. There was also a rally in the city of Cluj.

One protester told Reuters this was “only the beginning.”

In London, anti-mine protesters showed their support by rallying at the doors of the Romanian embassy.

Meanwhile, a separate protest against shale gas exploration drew 2,000 people in the town of Barlad.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s opinions towards the project have been far from clear. Before taking power in May 2012, he said he opposed the mine. This week he voted in favour of draft legislation. Later he told a local television station that he would vote against it in parliament.

As part of negotiations with the ruling party, Gabriel vowed to “ensure environmental protection and eliminate historical pollution” while adding 2,300 jobs during construction phases and 900 for operations. Reuters reports that few of Rosia Montana’s 2,800 residents have refused to sell their property to the company.

The draft bill also requires Gabriel to pay royalty taxes of 6% – 2% more than other mineral resource projects.

But a relatively recent cyanide spill still haunts the memories of many Romanians. In 2000 a cyanide leak from the gold mining company Aurul affected Romania, Serbia and Hungary, killing fish populations and contaminating drinking water. Some have called it Europe’s worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl.