Aboriginal victory over Swiss miner threatened

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Australian government gives conditional approval to Xstrata’s expansion plans.

SYDNEY - A court victory by Australian Aborigines over Swiss mining giant Xstrata's expansion plans at one of the world's biggest zinc mines is likely to be reversed, the government indicated Thursday.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said he intended to give conditional approval to a proposal to expand the McArthur River Mine in northern Australia, which involves the diversion of the river.

The Federal Court ruled in December that the previous government did not follow the proper process when it approved the AUD 110 million (USD 74 million, CHF 83 million) project in late 2006 and a new decision was required.

"I am proposing to approve, subject to strengthened conditions, the expansion of the open pit to the east", Garrett said, noting the court focused on proper procedures to follow rather than the plan's merits.

All work at the mine stopped after the court ruling, and Xstrata threatened to close the mine with the loss of at least 300 jobs.

Garrett gave the Aboriginal groups which objected to the expansion about two weeks to comment on his proposal, saying he would consider their submissions before making a final decision.

The court ruling sparked celebrations among the local Aboriginal group, which demanded that the McArthur River, several kilometres of which were already diverted, be restored to its original course.

[AFP / Expatica]

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