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Eldorado Gold says relations improving with Greek government on mine permitting

VANCOUVER – Eldorado Gold says its relationship with the Greek government has significantly improved since it suspended some mine development work there in January.

“We are, I believe, moving to a better place here,” chief executive Paul Wright said on a conference call Thursday.

“We’ve seen more encouraging engagement between ourselves and the ministry over the last month or two.”

Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold (TSX:ELD) put the Skouries gold project on care and maintenance and laid off 600 workers in January, saying it would not resume work until it received the necessary permits and relations with the government improved.

Those relations have been strained in recent years, with the Skouries project drawing strong condemnation and protests from some locals over fears of environmental effects. It has also been a source of several legal battles.

The company says it has been encouraged by developments since January, with the government having issued a building permit for its Skouries project in February and an installation permit for its Olympias gold project on Tuesday.

Wright said he’s encouraged that the company didn’t have to struggle to get the permits through the courts as they have over the last year or two.

“These approvals are being granted by the ministry, as opposed to us having to wrest them free through legal action,” said Wright.

The company is only awaiting approval of its technical study on Skouries before moving ahead.

Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada’s communications and outreach co-ordinator, said there is still significant local opposition to the mine over concerns of high arsenic levels and effects on water supplies and local tourism.

He said community members opposed to the mine have been focused on building political support to block it, but if the left-leaning Syriza government approves the mine, they could return to the streets.

“The support from the anti-mining movement had really been key to getting Syriza elected in northern Greece, and if the government and the party are no longer responding to that, then I think people might well turn back to direct protests,” said Kneen.

Wright said local support is strong for the mine and the government is responding to the needs of the community.

“Clearly the country needs employment, it needs job creation, it needs taxes, it needs investment,” said Wright.

Late Wednesday, Eldorado Gold reported a net loss of US$1.54 billion for 2015 after taking a non-cash impairment charges of US$1.53 billion, mainly related to its Greek assets.

The company also announced that it was suspending its dividend as of the first quarter of 2016.

Along with its gold development projects in Greece, Eldorado Gold also has operational gold mines in Turkey and China.