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Armenian Ecologists Picket Bank Over Mining Project

The Teghut forests

The Teghut forests

YEREVAN -- About two dozen environmental activists clashed with police while picketing the Armenian branch of a Russian bank that intends to finance a controversial mining project, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The police used force on July 28 against protesters after they blocked the entrance to the Yerevan headquarters of the VTB-Armenia bank. Armenian Green Party leader Armen Dovlatian was injured in the scuffle.

The country's leading environmental protection groups and other nongovernmental organizations have for years campaigned against plans by the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) mining company to develop a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region. The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum.

If implemented, the project will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of forest, comprising some 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia's green areas, which have shrunk considerably since the 1990s.

ACP admits the heavy environmental cost of its plans but says it will be more than offset by the 1,400 new jobs it has pledged to create in the area. The Liechtenstein-registered company has also pledged to build new schools and make other investments in the local infrastructure.

The project was formally approved by the government in 2007. The subsequent global economic crisis delayed its implementation, with VTB delaying the release of a $300 million loan promised to ACP. The company needs the loan to launch open-pit mining operations at Teghut.

The protest outside VTB-Armenia followed reports the Russian bank will disburse the sum later this year. The protesters demanded the bank withhold funding for the "illegal project."