YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia’s prime minister called on Saturday for environmental protesters to end their 18-month-old blockade of a foreign-owned gold mine, saying the protest was not in the national interest.
The Amulsar gold mine, which is located in a remote mountainous region, has been in development by Anglo-American mining firm Lydian International since 2016, with an investment of nearly $500 million so far.
The company says the project meets all the legal and environmental requirements, and would generate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues.
But a group of local residents and environmental activists have prevented access to the mine by blocking a road to the site since June 2018, putting pressure on the government to act in order to safeguard a major foreign investment.
“I consider their (protesters) actions are not logical ... and not in the interest of Armenia,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a news conference. “This issue will not be resolved as long as the roads are blocked.”
Pashinyan said he suspected there were some hidden economic interests stirring up the protest.
“They hope that some changes will happen in the stock exchange so they can get shares, but we will not let such processes happen,” he said.
Toronto Stock Exchange said earlier this month it would delist Lydian from Feb. 5 because the company did not meet the necessary requirements. The firm has been granted temporary protection from creditors’ claims as a result of the blockade.
Lydian said last year that the blockade had forced it to cut more than 1,000 jobs and caused losses of more than $60 million.
The protest has divided locals. Some say the mine will provide much-needed employment in Jermuk, a town of about 3,000 people, and to rural communities in the area about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of the capital, Yerevan.
Minerals and metals make up about half of Armenia’s exports.
Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper