* Capital shows effects of change, including cinemas,
* Coastal residents fear impact on traditional livelihoods
By Alistair Scrutton
NUUK, March 12 Voters in Greenland's capital
will stream into the town's one polling station on Tuesday in a
national parliamentary election in which mining, Chinese
influence and the environment are core issues.
With sea ice thawing and new shipping routes opening in the
Arctic, the former Cold War ally of the West has emerged from
isolation as a geopolitical interest for governments seeking a
share of untapped minerals and potential offshore oil and gas.
Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist, who in his youth hunted whales
with a hand-held harpoon, has opened up Greenland to investors
over the last four years.
The capital Nuuk has an art cinema, sushi bars, Thai
restaurants and gleaming new office towers alongside older,
grey Soviet-style housing estates.
Many of the 57,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants dotted along
remote coastal towns and villages fear change has come too fast.
Ice floes often are so thin that hunters can no longer use dog
And miners exploiting Greenland's resources may employ more
foreigners than locals.
Revenues from mining may help wean self-governing Greenland
off Denmark's roughly $600 million annual grant and lead to
eventual independence. But they also bring worries of
environmental damage to traditional hunting and fishing.
The main opposition leader Aleqa Hammond, who lost her
father when young after he fell through ice on a hunting trip,
has promised more taxes or royalties on foreign mining
"Where is the voice of the people?" Hammond told Reuters
last week. "People feel that the prime minister speaks on behalf
of investors from outside."
The capital of 15,000 people overlooks a bay where whales
can often be spotted. There are just two traffic lights and no
roads or train links with the rest of the country - the only way
in or out is by plane or boat.
Campaign posters vie with ice sculptures on the frigid main
street for attention.
Polls show the results, which may not be known until late
Tuesday night, could be close.
European Union officials have expressed concern about
China's influence in Greenland, part of what some analysts say
is a multi-pronged Arctic strategy by the world's most populous
nation to secure needed resources.
One of the most controversial plans is a proposal for a $2.3
billion mining project by the British-based London Mining Plc
near the capital Nuuk that could supply iron ore to
China. Some 2,000 Chinese workers could be flown in for its
Kleist's government passed a law that critics said allowed
large companies to bring in cheap labour to work on construction
projects. Hammond has promised to revise the law if she wins.
Another issue has been the mining of rare earths, essential
in 21st century technology like smartphones. China currently has
the lion's share of production.
Rare earths are often intertwined with uranium deposits. But
Greenland is split over whether to jettison its zero tolerance
policy on mining radioactive materials, which originates in
Denmark. Kleist wants to keep the ban while Hammond would end
One rare earth deposit in southern Greenland, being explored
by Australian-owned Greenland Minerals and Energy, could be one
of the largest such mines outside of China.
"Everything is on hold for us with the election," said Ib
Laursen, operations manager at Greenland Minerals and Energy.