Voters deliver backlash over Greenland's minerals rush

Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:05am EDT
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By Alistair Scrutton

NUUK (Reuters) - Aleqa Hammond looked set to be Greenland's first female prime minister on Wednesday after winning 42 percent of votes in elections on a platform of greater control and heavier taxation of foreign mining.

The opening of the country of 57,000, which is a quarter the size of the United States, to foreign miners has sparked a backlash from its traditional Inuit people, many of whom fear both Chinese influence and environmental damage.

Hammond's Siumut party won around 14 seats in the 31-seat parliament, meaning she will need to form a coalition. Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist won around 34 percent of votes, according to official results published on Wednesday by the national KNR broadcaster.

With sea ice thawing and new shipping routes opening in the Arctic, the former Cold War ally of the West has emerged from isolation and gained geopolitical attention thanks to its untapped mineral wealth and potential offshore oil and gas.

"Thanks to my supporters," Hammond told KNR. "It was a huge relief to have won."

Hammond grew up in a remote village. Her father died when she was young after he fell through ice while hunting. She says her family tried to make her marry a hunter. She refused.

There is still a broad consensus in Greenland that foreign investment is needed to help bring in revenues and wean the self governing country off an annual grant from former colonial master Denmark that pays for more than half its budget.

Hammond wants foreign miners to pay more but will also seek to lift a ban on mining radioactive materials that has stopped some plans to develop rare earths deposits, crucial in 21st technology like smart phones.   Continued...

A party worker sets up a campaign poster in the centre of Nuuk, March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Alistair Scrutton (GREENLAND - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)