An estimated 300-400 people rallied Saturday in Jokkmokk, Sweden, about 650 miles north of Stockholm, calling for an end to plans by British company Beowulf Mining to extract an anticipated 10 million tons of ore per year from its Kallak mine site, the daily Norbottens-Kuriren reported.
The newspaper said it was the biggest rally yet in a week of protests near the site, sparked by a round of test blasts carried out by Beowulf subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB.
It came two days after the government gave the green light to a nickel mining proposal elsewhere in northern Sweden, in which it determined mining holds a larger public interest than reindeer herding.
Opponents say the Sami traditional reindeer herding land is under threat from the Kallak project, which is supported by the Swedish government. They claim the company and the government are not taking into account its impact on them, as required by Swedish law and international conventions.
Beowulf, they say, is refusing to let local communities participate in producing environmental impact assessments necessary to gauge the impact of the proposed mining on the Sami, or Laplanders, and their reindeer-grazing livelihoods.
Ten protesters blocking a road were carried away Wednesday, prompting charges of aggressive police behavior.
Saturday's rally, organized by nearby villages, made clear opposition to the mining project will persist, the Swedish newspaper reported.
"It usually is with pleasure that I visit these winter pastures, but now it's mostly with sadness, when one sees how foreign companies can come and take over our ancestral lands," Sami leader Mattias Pirak told a cheering crowd. "It is a war and we should do what we can to win it. We will never give up, never, ever."
The Sami live within a broad stretch of Arctic Circle lands spanning Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, which they call Sapmi.
Protesters from throughout the region came to oppose not only the Kallak mine plans but also the larger plight of indigenous people facing the loss of their homes from extractive industries.
"This is (a message) for all outsiders who (want the) colonization of Sapmi," Sami activist Kristina Astot Utsi told the crowd. "We need to put our foot down to defend ourselves, and it feels like the fight has begun now."
Chief Executive Fred Boman of Beowulf subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB told Swedish Radio the protests in Kallak have caused some delays and additional costs for the company. Among other things, he said, the company had to hire security guards and even some private individuals to guard the blasting area.
Boman accused activists of sabotaging the mining company's vehicles by pouring water into tanks. The activists will be required to pay for a large amount of damages, he told the broadcaster.
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