Miners’ protest highlights job jitters in Greece

Ioakeim Stylianos takes in some sunshine before the half-mile trudge back through muddy tunnels to rejoin an underground protest to save a condemned metal ore mine near the village of Statoniki in Halkidiki. Yesterday marked a week of occupation by 120 miners, with some refusing meals and all growing desperate. «We have not been paid for five months. We’ve had to borrow money,» Stylianos said. «What are we supposed to do?» Stratoniki and nearby villages in northern Greece have yielded gold and other precious metals since the time of Alexander the Great. But now its miners are a symbol of Greece’s growing job insecurity, amid factory closures and fears of cheaper labor emerging when the European Union expands eastward next year. Unemployment stubbornly hovering around 10 percent is now the country’s main worry. The lead-and-zinc mines at Stratoniki have seemed condemned since the Canadian contract-holders, Kinross Gold Corp of Toronto, said they were pulling out. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said Friday the government was trying to set up a «new structure» to take over the mines, while Kinross has over $10 million in aid for a transition. «(The protesters) should be certain we will have a positive result next week,» Tsochadzopoulos said. The miners and their families, camped out at the face of the Stratoniki site, are skeptical. «All we hear are promises,» Stylianos said. Evripidis Atzigiamis, head of the miners’ union, isn’t hopeful either. «We’ve been hearing this for months,» he said. «We remain reserved until next week.» Deep underground, the Stratoniki miners spend their day sitting against the rusted pipes that line the tunnel walls. Nurses check on those refusing meals since several have had to be hospitalized. Residents of Stratoniki, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Thessaloniki, worry about the impact of mine closures in an area with few other employment options. «It’s no coincidence we have no immigrants in this area,» said Costas Katranis, head of the miners’ technicians union. «There is nothing else here.» Workers, most from families with a long mining tradition, remain defiant and say even if a new operator is not found they will demand full compensation for the 500 workers currently employed. «Our cemeteries are full of 30-year-olds who died because they were miners,» Stylianos said. «We have health problems but we have survived. They should help us.» Union leader Atzigiamis is doubtful any help will come. «It could close for the first time since ancient times,» he said. «It never closed before and now, of all times, it may.» (AP)

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