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Romanian gold miners end underground protest after PM's visit

A protester gestures while holding up a placard, which reads: "How much does your silence cost?", during a rally in Bucharest, against plans
A protester gestures while holding up a placard, which reads: "How much does your silence cost?", during a rally in Bucharest, against plans

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian gold miners who staged a five-day protest underground against plans to halt development of the site ended their sit-in on Sunday after the prime minister went into the pit to meet them.

"I promised them a parliamentary commission to assess the proposed mine (before a vote in parliament)," said Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who wore a white miner's cap and green overalls and was surrounded by cheering miners.

Thirty three workers had blockaded themselves into the Rosia Montana site 300 metres below ground and threatened to go on hunger strike over fears jobs would be lost if plans by Canada's Gabriel Resources' to set up Europe's biggest open-cast gold mine did not go ahead.

Rosia Montana in the Carpathian Mountains in northern Romania is the site of Roman-era gold works where archaeological conservation works were being carried out.

The government approved a draft law to allow the mine project to go ahead in August. But Ponta said last week lawmakers were set to reject the Canadian company's 14-year bid to develop the mine due to mounting resistance from the public and political leaders, who are worried about its impact on the environment.

Thousands of people in cities across Romania have staged demonstrations in past weeks against the mine project, including 10,000 in the capital Bucharest on Sunday, where they blocked a main boulevard.

Thousands also gathered in Rosia Montana on Sunday to support the mine development and protest against widespread poverty in the area, arguing the plan would create jobs.

The mine project would use cyanide to extract 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver. The company says the technology is safe.

"Save Rosia Montana," read banners in Bucharest in protests attended by mainly young, educated people. "Save Rosia Montana people," read posters in Rosia.

Ponta's Infrastructure Ministry said on Thursday Romania would have a hard time defending itself in court if it rejects the plans by Gabriel Resources.

Gabriel, whose largest shareholder, hedge fund Paulson & Co, has a 16 percent stake, said it may resort to legal action.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, resorted to IMF-led aid in 2009 after years of recession and is in dire need of investment, including in its mining, energy and farming sectors.

A vote in parliament on the mine has yet to be scheduled but political sources said it could be called as early as next week after the special commission has its say.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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