AFP, Ankara Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Turkish government on Wednesday ordered a halt to construction work on a gold mine in a town near the Black Sea pending completion of the legal process, after protests warning it would ruin a pristine environment.

The decision came as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hosted a delegation from the Black Sea area to discuss controversial plans to build the gold and copper mine in the town of Cerrattepe in the Artvin region, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

The two-hour meeting decided that the mining company would halt its activities in the region until the legal process is finalised, Anatolia said, quoting sources from the prime minister’s office.

The project has been the subject of numerous legal complaints although it was not immediately clear which specific case Davutoglu was referring to.

Over the past weeks, thousands of Artvin residents have held protests against the project which would see an ancient forest razed to the ground.

While the suspension means the project could still ultimately go ahead, the decision marks a rare victory for Turkey’s environmental movement.

The conglomerate behind the project is the Cengiz Holding company, with its chief executive Mehmet Cengiz seen as a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan and the Turkish government are very wary of environmentally-motivated protests after grassroots demonstrations in 2013 against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square snowballed into an uprising against his rule.