(Bloomberg) -- Protesters in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia region demanded the government withdraw a gold-mining permit from a company owned by Saudi billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi because of alleged pollution.
Demonstrators have blockaded roads in Shakiso, 358 kilometers (222 miles) south of the capital, Addis Ababa, since April 30 to press their demand that Mohammed International Development & Research Organization Companies’ license to mine the metal be canceled, said Addisu Bullalla, a spokesman for the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress. Protests have spread to the towns of Ginchi and Nekemte in western Oromia, he said.
The demonstrations “will spread all across Oromia if the government doesn’t cancel this agreement, bring Midroc to justice, and make Midroc pay compensation for the damage they have caused,” Addisu said.
The protests echo unrest that erupted three years ago at the mine and became part of large-scale anti-government rallies that earlier this year culminated in the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The demonstrations have left hundreds of people dead and the country is under its second state of emergency in two years.
Critics of Midroc’s mine allege the company dumped chemicals from its operations near Shakiso into rivers used by residents and livestock for drinking water, resulting in birth deformities and animal deaths. Defense Minister Motuma Mekessa visited Shakiso at the weekend to mediate the dispute, but failed to resolve it, Alemayehu Hirbora, the town’s head of social affairs, said by phone.
Midroc Chief Executive Officer Arega Yidaw hung up when Bloomberg called his mobile phone seeking comment. He didn’t respond to three further calls, a text message, and emailed questions. The company’s environmental director, Negussie Assefa, declined to comment.
Midroc produces 4.5 metric tons of gold at the Lega Dembi mine in Shakiso, according to the company’s website.
Its license, first awarded in 1997, was renewed in April for a decade and includes a provision to give 2 percent of profit to the local community, said Mines Ministry spokesman Bacha Faji. The ministry has conducted an environmental and social-impact assessment of the mine’s operations, he said.
“We don’t want the community harmed chemically,” Bacha said by phone. “We are now consulting.”
A state minister at the Mines Ministry, Tewodros Gebre Egziabher, said May 1 on state-owned Oromia Broadcasting Network that it was a “mistake” to renew the license without prior discussion with the local community.
Hundreds of youths have fled Shakiso for fear of being arrested or beaten after forces administering the state of emergency entered homes, hotels and cafes, Guye Hassan, a resident, said by phone. Negeri Lencho, spokesman for the Oromia government, referred a request for comment to Motuma.
More than 11,000 people have been arrested in the emergency that’s been in place since Hailemariam tendered his resignation in February. Save for beatings incurred while being arrested, there has been “no inhuman treatment,” a committee overseeing the emergency announced at the weekend.
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