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Greek Gold Mine Savior To Some, Curse To Others

The company plans to extract the ore by means of an open pit as well as extensive underground tunnels. About 170 hectares (420 acres) of trees are being cleared for the pit â¿¿ an area which the company says will be filled over and replanted once pit work is finished. A processing plant is also to be built.

Skouries is expected to be up and running by mid-2015 and to operate for about 25 years, Eldorado says. It estimates total investment in Skouries to be $400 million.

The mine complex includes another two projects, Stratoni and Olympiada. Along with a fourth mine in the northeastern border region of Thrace, Eldorado speaks of a euro1 billion ($1.3 billion) investment in Greece over the next five years that will create 2,000 jobs, Moura said.

"The region of southeast Europe is a focal point of our future business, and Greece is a major component of that strategy," Eldorado CEO Paul Wright said in Athens in December 2011. "The northeast of Greece is very, very prospective."

The four mines are expected to account for about a quarter of the company's total future gold production. "The investment is very important, because if it succeeds it'll open the road to other investments that Greece needs so much," said Hellas Gold communications officer Kostas Georgantzis.

But the project has deeply divided local communities, and several recent demonstrations by between 400 to 1,000 people, according to protesters, have turned violent, with riot police firing tear gas and fighting running battles through the woods.

About five villages whose residents are employed by the mines are firmly behind the project, with the main center of support in the village of Stratoni. Those against draw on support from about 10 outlying villages, mine opponents say, with the center of protests focused in the village of Ierissos. Opponents say their cause is backed by scores of residents in much of the rest of Halkidiki, a tourist area popular with foreign and Greek visitors in the summer.

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