TURKEY: Court Bans Cyanide Gold Process Near Ancient Town
Despite an order from the country's Supreme Court backing up environmentalists, the pressure is mounting this week for the reopening of a controversial mine in one of Turkey's most visited tourist areas.
The mine is to use the controversial cyanide leaching method to extract gold, despite local and national protests that the process is too dangerous in area threatened by earthquakes.
The mine, at Ovacik in Turkeys Aegean region, lies close to the ancient city of Pergamon and is owned by Eurogold, a subsidiary of Australia's Normandy Mining Ltd. It has been dormant for the last 10 years due to protests from neighboring villagers and a series of legal actions.
Last year, protestors successfuly won their case against cyanide leaching at the mine at the Supreme Court, which issued a prohibition on using the controversial method. The court ruling represented a landmark victory for the country's environmentalists.
The ruling came after disastrous leaks from mines using cyanide leaching in Romania and Hungary early last year wiped out most aquatic life in the Tisza and Danube River systems.
However, a report by the government scientific research body, TUBITAK, was then issued claiming that the process was safe. This report is now being used by mine owners to justify a start to cyanide leaching - despite the court order.
"This is clearly absurd," says Greenpeace toxic waste campaigner Tolga Temuge. "The court ruled against leaching, so it doesnt matter if a report is issued. A report from an advisory body cannot be legally binding, so legally it is over - the state are not sultans."
Cyanide leaching is used in many mines to extract gold, yet, opponents claim, it poses severe risks to the environment. The use of highly toxic materials and their disposal - usually into large ponds of runoff water - is seen as dangerous by locals, who have led a campaign against the mine that has landed many of them in jail. They point to the likelihood of earthquakes in the region which might crack any storage ponds, leading to cyanide working its way into local water supplies.
Recently villagers were accused by the powerful State Security Courts - set up by the military following the 1980 coup and still operating - of being members of illegal political organisations. The rational was that they could not possibly have organized their own protest and must have been helped by outlawed groups. The case appears to have little evidence to it other than this.
Eurogold itself claims that the villagers concerns have been addressed and that new equipment has been installed at the mine to prevent hazardous waste escaping.
There are also some 600 other licenses issued countrywide for gold mining which will use the cyanide leaching method. The outcome of the protest over the Ovacik mine will likely determine the fate of these other contracts.
Last week, Eurogold mining representative Orhan Guckan briefed the government on the mine, saying that Turkey had spent $2.5 billion last year to import gold, an unecessary expenditure when the country had quite enough of its own.
However, the former mayor of the Bergama district, Sefa Taskin, slammed the government for allowing Eurogold to make such a presentation. "To present this kind of information to cabinet is unfair," he said. "Nobody opposes foreign investment, but it is unfair and unjust to threaten human life and environmental health, especially considering the court decision."
The mine is not far from one of Turkeys most important ancient Roman cities, Pergamon, or Bergama, which is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
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