BUCHAREST (AFP) – Some 15,000 Romanians protested Sunday for the 15th straight day against a Canadian company's plans to open Europe's largest gold mine in the heart of Transylvania.
Canadian firm Gabriel Resources hopes to extract 300 tonnes of gold in Rosia Montana with mining techniques requiring the use of thousands of tonnes of cyanide.
The decision by the centre-left government to approve a draft law speeding up the opening of the mine has been the trigger for the massive protests that started two weeks ago.
In Bucharest, around 8,000 people gathered in University Square chanting "United we can save Rosia Montana" and calling for the government's resignation.
"It is very shocking to see that a law is specially designed for the benefit of a private company. It could create a dangerous precedent," Sorin Jurca, a Rosia Montana resident who came to protest in Bucharest, told AFP.
Jurca has been opposing the mine for years and fears his property could be expropriated by the company if the draft law is approved in Parliament.
Protesters then marched or rode their bikes down the capital city's main boulevard carrying banners calling to block the project.
Among them were many young couples with children on their shoulders or in prams.
Nearly 7,000 protesters turned out in Cluj, the largest Transylvanian city, and hundreds in Iasi, Oradea and Sibiu, according to police figures.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Victor Ponta went to the planned gold mine site to meet 33 employees of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) who were refusing to leave a former mining gallery.
The employees fear they will lose their jobs if the project is blocked by lawmakers.
Ponta promised a special parliamentary committee would be set up to examine the project.
"We will create a committee and will have its members come here to talk" to the employees, Ponta said, quoted by Mediafax news agency.
Outside the mine, hundreds of people cheered him, urging the government and lawmakers to back the Canadian mine plans.
"We want to work, not to beg," they chanted.
Gabriel Resources, which owns 80 percent of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, acquired a mining licence in 1999 but has been waiting ever since for a crucial permit from the environment ministry.
The company promises 900 jobs during the 16-year extraction period and economic benefits.
Scientists and opponents say the mine will be an ecological time-bomb and threaten the area's Roman mining galleries.
The project will also lead to the destruction of four mountains and require hundreds of families to be relocated.