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Greenpeace urges Russia to free activists after piracy charge lifted
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Oct 24, 2013

Greenland awards first big mining exploitation license
Copenhagen (AFP) Oct 24, 2013 - Greenland awarded Thursday its first big mining exploitation license, approving a project by British company London Mining, which will most likely hire Chinese workers.

"This is indeed a historic moment for Greenland," Greenland's Industry and Minerals Minister Jens-Erik Kirkegaard said.

Kirkegaard called it "the largest commercial project to date in Greenland," and said the agreement would affect employment and state revenue in a very positive direction.

London Mining said in a statement that the government of the island has granted them a 30-year license to exploit an iron deposit located 150 kilometres (93 miles) from the capital Nuuk, which should produce 15 million tonnes per year.

Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, expects its mineral resources to boost the economy, which currently depends on fishing and Danish subsidies.

Social Democrats won the last general election in March on a promise to obtain revenues from foreign companies interested in the island's resources.

Isolation and weak infrastructure had kept investors away, despite Greenland's natural underground wealth, recently rendered more accessible thanks to global warming and the resulting ice retreat.

The company plans to build the mining site in three years with up to 3,000 workers, the equivalent of more than five percent of Greenland's population of 56,000.

The majority of these workers will most likely be Chinese, according to a London Mining statement from 2010 saying that "the involvement of Chinese groups is anticipated to deliver significant cost savings."

The company estimates exploitation of the deposit will support 810 jobs, some 55 percent out of which could be Greenlandic.

Greenpeace on Thursday urged Russia to release its crew members after investigators reduced the charge against them from piracy to hooliganism over their protest on an Arctic oil platform.

"Our general position has not changed: the investigation must wind up this laughable case, apologise and set them all free," Greenpeace lawyer Anton Beneslavsky told AFP.

Russia's powerful Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, late Wednesday announced it was softening the charge against the 30 crew members.

The maximum punishment for piracy in an organised group is 15 years while hooliganism can carry a sentence of seven years.

The piracy charges against the crew members from 18 different countries on a Dutch-flagged ship prompted international protests and pushed the Netherlands to launch legal proceedings against Russia.

Russia said Wednesday it would boycott maritime court hearings sought by the Netherlands seeking the release of the crew and the ship.

Greenpeace lawyer Beneslavsky said the hearings before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea would be unaffected by the change of charge.

"The basis for proceedings at the international tribunal is the seizure of the ship by Russia. How the side that seized the ship justifies its actions does not influence the jurisdiction of this case."

The new charge of hooliganism is the same used against the Pussy Riot punks for their protest performance against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow church which landed two band members in prison for two years.

"The Greenpeace action in the Arctic has been equated with the Pussy Riot in the Church of Christ the Saviour," rights lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Twitter.

The crew members, including two journalists, have been detained behind bars in the northern Murmansk region after two activists scaled a state-owned oil platform to protest against Russia's energy prospecting in the Arctic, one of Russia's top economic projects.

The government is preparing to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February, and many see the tough line against Greenpeace as a warning to any activists thinking about protesting during the games, the Kremlin's key prestige project.

Last month, Putin fiercely pledged to protect Russia from foreign influences, saying its sovereignty and independence were "red lines" that could not be crossed.

Maria Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, outlined what she sees as the Kremlin's line of thinking: "People who dare to tell Russia what it should or should not do should be punished."

Yet Greenpeace and political commentators said investigators moved to cancel a clearly excessive charge after mounting international pressure.

Even Putin said publicly that the activists were "obviously not pirates."

"They finally realised that the idiocy of the Investigative Committee is disgracing us all," opposition leader and lawyer Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter.

The crew members are currently being held under pre-trial detention until November 24.

Some predicted they could now avoid a prison term or even be released ahead of the trial.

"It's possible they will get suspended sentences," said Lipman.

Navalny said he thought the international activists could receive a minor punishment.

"They'll take away the foreigners' passports, put them under house arrest and then hand them community service," he wrote on Twitter.

Navalny, a top Putin critic, this month had his five-year prison sentence for embezzlement changed to a suspended term that bars him from political office in the foreseeable future.

But Greenpeace cautioned that the activists are not experiencing any immediate benefits.

"The charge is changed but that does not make the team's treatment any lighter. They are still under a grave charge," said Alexei Kiselyov, a Greenpeace representative.


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