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Future Of Rare-Earth Mining Project In Question After Greenland's Election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Greenland, the center-left Siumut party has dominated politics since the nation won the right to home rule in 1979. That changed on Tuesday when voters carried the more left-leaning IA party to victory. Sidsel Overgaard considers what the win means for this mineral-rich island.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: For starters, it means the end of a proposed rare earths mine. The Kuannersuit project would have required extracting uranium as a byproduct, and that worried a lot of Greenlanders. Inuit Ataqatigiit, or IA, campaigned on a promise to stop the mine. Speaking to Danish broadcasting on Wednesday, the country's presumptive 34-year-old prime minister, Mute B. Egede, said he intends to keep that promise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUTE B EGEDE: (Through interpreter) You must listen to the people, and the people have spoken.

OVERGAARD: An Australian company with Chinese backing is behind the mine proposal. Its stock value has plummeted. But Kuannersuit is just one part of a larger discussion about the country's future. A majority of Greenlanders want the economy to develop to a level that would allow eventual independence from Denmark. Ulrik Pram Gad with the Danish Institute for International Studies says for years, the ruling Siumut party has been plagued by infighting and a constantly shifting platform. He says IA's win reflects a desire for stability and forward movement.

ULRIK PRAM GAD: If they succeed in having a stable government for four years, I'm not sure it matters what exact platform it is. But just the fact that they're going to have plans and pursue them, that might actually lay the foundation for bringing Greenland closer to realizing some kind of economic self-sustainability and formal sovereignty at a later stage.

OVERGAARD: Gad says a first step will be to focus on education. Fishing and tourism will also be a part of the solution.

AAJA CHEMNITZ LARSEN: And also mining.

OVERGAARD: Yes, mining, says Aaja Chemnitz Larsen. She's a member of IA and one of two Greenlandic representatives to the Danish parliament.

CHEMNITZ LARSEN: But maybe in a smaller scale so it will grow much more organically, instead of these large-scale projects.

OVERGAARD: IA has to partner with at least one smaller party to form a coalition government. Because negotiations are ongoing, Larsen is hesitant to talk in detail about what's to come. But she says after decades of Greenland often being treated as a pawn on the international stage, one thing is for sure.

CHEMNITZ LARSEN: Nothing about us without us. It's important for Greenland to take much more part in business development and to make sure that we have, you know, a good collaboration with countries around us. But we're the ones deciding what's going to happen in our country.

OVERGAARD: For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

After taking a semester off from college to intern with Vermont Public Radio in 1999, Sidsel was hooked. She went on to work as a reporter and producer at WNYC in New York and WAMU in Washington, DC before moving to New Mexico in 2007. As KUNM’s Conservation Beat reporter, Sidsel covered news from around the state having to do with protection of our earth, air and water. She also kept up a blog, earth air waves, filled with all the bits that can’t be crammed into the local broadcast of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. When not interviewing inspiring people (or sheep), Sidsel could be found doing underdogs with her daughters at the park.
Sidsel Overgaard
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