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News 02 Nov 11

Smelter Revival Plan Outrages Macedonian Greens

Plans to reopen a factory that for years blighted life in the central town of Veles have local environmentalists up in arms.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Skopje

Veles residents are using "all means" to raise awareness against the restarting of the smelter

People in Veles, Macedonia, have announced protests following news that the Zletovo lead and zinc smelter may reopen after eight years.

“The whole town has been on its feet since word got out,” says Nenad Kocic, a local doctor and head of the ecological NGO “Vila Zora”, which is part of the so-called Green Coalition.

The coalition, made up of seven local NGOs and the municipality of Veles, has been struggling for years to end the threat posed by the smelter for good.
 
Last Wednesday activists staged a protest in front of the factory gates. They also said they would declare the Metrudhem company, which owns the site, "non-grata" in Veles if it does not give up the plans.

A bigger rally is planned for November 9, timed to coincide with the day of Veles’s liberation at the end of the Second World War.

“We do not exclude radicalization [of the protests],” Kocic said, explaining that many people were angry because they feared that "their health and the life of future generations are at stake”.
 
The factory, built in the 1970s and owned by the Yugoslav state, was idled after independence in 2004 after generating large financial losses.

In April 2009 Metrudhem paid €2.25 million to become the new owner of the former industrial giant that at one point employed some 1,500 workers.

The daily newspaper Dnevnik at the time wrote that the company was registered in the British Virgin Islands but little else was known about it.

The company last month assured that it would first draw up an environmental study before reopening the factory. Local media said the company planned to reopen in two or three years' time, after getting the necessary permits from the Environment Ministry.

But Veles Mayor Goran Petrov, a member of the Green Coalition, says enough studies have already proven that the smelter was a serious danger to the atmosphere.

“We will prove that the location of the smelter is inappropriate and that underground waters and wind will carry the pollution directly into the town,” Petrov said.
   
In 2005, a study carried out by the European Agency for Reconstruction, found that the soil, water and air in Veles had been significantly polluted by emissions from the factory. Quantities of toxic metals were found in the environment.

Earlier, in 2001, the World Health Organization, WHO, described the town of some 46,000 residents as an environmental black spot, listing it among the most critically polluted places in the world.

Local doctors believe that high levels of pollution have been responsible for the high rates of cancer and other diseases as well as many malformations among newborn children in Veles.

However, the Green Coalition may not get its way.

Last week, a court in Veles ruled against its claim for state compensation for the consequences of decades of deadly emissions.

But Kocic says local greens are not discouraged. “If need be, we will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg” he says. “It should be clear once and for all that we won’t allow the smelter to reopen.”

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