* 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
braved heavy snow and crowded into its one polling station on
Tuesday in an election which pits economic development against
concerns over the environment and Chinese influence.
With sea ice thawing and new shipping routes opening in the
Arctic, the former Cold War ally of the West has emerged from
isolation and gained geopolitical attention thanks to its
untapped mineral wealth 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. He has been feted by Chinese and EU
officials vying for influence.
"The question in this election is whether you believe in a
new economy with large scale projects like mining, or whether
you want to remain with the old and traditional ways of running
this country." Kleist told Reuters after he voted.
The capital Nuuk now has an art cinema, sushi bars, Thai
restaurants and gleaming new office towers alongside older,
grey Soviet-style housing estates and an old port where hunters
bring in seals for skinning.
Many of the 57,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants dotted along
remote coastal towns and villages, however, fear change has come
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.
Ice floes often are so thin that hunters can no longer use
dog sledges and miners exploiting Greenland's resources may
employ more foreigners than locals.
"This government talks too much about mining and not enough
about fishermen," said Job Heilmann, a 48-year-old who hunts for
seal and reindeer and fishes for halibut.
He complained about fish quotas, poor market access for seal
skins and restrictions over harpoon guns for whale hunting.
"Most fishermen I know are voting for opposition," said
The main opposition leader Aleqa Hammond, who lost her
father when she was young after he fell through ice on a hunting
trip, has promised more taxes or royalties on foreign mining
"The central issue here is who will run the country?"
Hammond told Reuters before she voted. "People feel that it is
foreign companies who have too much say here."
JUST TWO TRAFFIC LIGHTS
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 frozen main
street by the voting station 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 Beijing to secure needed
One of the most controversial plans is a proposal for a $2.3
billion mining project by the British-based London Mining Plc
near Nuuk that could supply iron ore to China. Some
2,000 Chinese workers could be flown in for its construction.
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.