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TURKISH authorities have been blasted after they moved to clear a protest camp at a widely condemned mine development project citing the Covid-19 pandemic — despite mine workers being forced to continue operations.
Thousands of environmentalists and rights activists have been camped in the surrounding forest for 276 days in a bid to protect the Kaz mountains in Cannakale, north-western Turkey, and the surrounding area from damage.
Development of the gold mine started last year despite warnings that the local water supply for 180,000 people would be contaminated with cyanide, which is used in the extraction process.
Canadian-owned mining company Alamos Gold is accused of cutting down nearly 200,000 trees in the region, sparking widespread anger and protests.
But the Cannakale Provincial Hygiene Board demanded that the vigil be brought to an end, despite activists maintaining isolation and social-distancing measures and closely monitoring the external entrances to the camps.
“We are already isolated from the epidemic. What does this decision have to do with the struggle against coronavirus?” one activist asked. “Miners continue to work, but we are removed,” he added.
The Kazdaglari Resisters, who organised the protest camp, said that the decision compromises lives and will lead to the company destroying more of the forest, which it had been prevented from doing because of their presence.
“The Alamo Gold project should be cancelled and the decision regarding our camp should be reversed,” the group said.
Suheyla Dogan, chairman of the board of the Kazdagi Natural & Cultural Heritage Association, and Ferzan Aktas and Ulas Bas, who have been at the camp for 276 days, said the quarantine rules were not applied to mine workers and were only applied to them in order to end the action.
Mr Dogan said: “On the one hand, there are thermal power plant workers working together. While there are no safety measures to protect workers, we disagree with the decision to remove people [in the camp] who are isolating themselves.”
Mr Aktas said that protesters do not go into the nearby city and fully comply with all the measures stipulated by the Turkish Health Ministry. But he fears that mining operations will escalate after the camp is cleared.
“We do not know how the process will operate after today. Mining company employees are standing here. Vehicles are parked. The area must be protected,” he said.
Mr Bas agreed and said that the Kaz mountains have a unique environment and should be protected, but instead are being plundered by Alamos Gold.
“Today, the coronavirus epidemic shows that we need protection for forests from the ravages of globalisation, not for gold companies from the other end of the world.
“The destruction of the Kaz mountain ecosystem, besides water pollution, will also cause irreversible damage, polluting both the air and the soil, posing a risk to agriculture, animals and climate change in general,” he said.
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