Thousands protest in Romania against shale gas, gold mine
* Protests continue despite Chevron halt to exploration work
* Opposition to gold mine plan by Canada's Gabriel Resources
* Leftist government's plans have sparked weeks of rallies
By Luiza Ilie
PUNGESTI, Romania, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Thousands of Romanians protested on Saturday against plans by U.S. energy group Chevron to explore for shale gas in a poor eastern region and a Canadian company's project to set up Europe's biggest open cast gold mine in a Carpathian town.
Plans by the leftist government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to approve the tapping of natural resources in the European Union's second-poorest state have triggered nationwide protests since the start of September, throwing together local communities, environmentalists, civic rights groups and the clergy.
While the two projects are separate and in different stages of development, protesters have criticised a lack of transparency in approving both. They demand stronger safeguards to protect Romania's environment and national heritage.
On Thursday, Chevron suspended work on what was to be its first exploration well in the small town of Pungesti in Vaslui county, 340 km (210 miles) northeast of the capital Bucharest, after locals blocked access to the site.
But the people of Pungesti, most of whom live off subsistence farming in one of Europe's poorest regions, have continued protesting, asking officials to revoke drilling plans. Continued...