Debate over a controversial project aimed at extracting uranium and rare earth minerals has sparked political uncertainty in Greenland’s parliament.

Greenland’s parliament on Tuesday voted in favour of holding new elections sometime in the spring after a junior partner quit from the coalition government over a controversial mining project.

The proposed project, which aims to extract uranium and rare mines, has wreaked political havoc in the world’s largest island, which is also a Danish autonomous territory.

A snap election was originally set for April 6, but the final date is still being debated as some parliamentarians oppose the fact it coincides with municipal elections.

"Now all we need is to find a date for the election," Greenland's head of government Kim Kielsen told parliament.

In early February, the start of public hearings over the proposed mine project in Kvanefjeld, on the island's southern edge, sparked and fuelled the political crisis.

Some local government ministers even received death threats and chose not to attend the hearings.

The democratic-socialist party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, which is opposed to the project, is now leading public opinion polls.

After gaining full independence in 2009, and obtaining control of its mineral reserves, Greenland has long been hoping to cut its financial umbilical cord with Copenhagen.

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, receives nearly €526 million ($634 million) subsidies annually, which is equal to about a third of its national budget.

What is the Kvanefjeld mining project? 

The mining project proposes to extract uranium and rare mines - it is considered a major milestone for the autonomous island.

Kvanefjeld, which is rich in rare earth oxides and uranium deposits, is considered to be one of the largest multi-element deposits of its kind in the world.

However, critics are concerned by the mine’s environmental impact in a region already on the frontlines of global warming.

Attracted by the island's natural resources and geopolitical relevance, former US president Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland in 2019 - a bid swiftly rebuffed by Denmark as "absurd".

Meanwhile, China has already begun investing in the country. In 2010, Greenland Minerals, an Australian company backed by Chinese group Shenghe, obtained an exploration licence for the Kvanefjeld deposit.

The vein is considered to hold a group of 17 metals used as components in high-tech devices such as smartphones, flat screen displays, electric cars and weapons.

After three successive refusals, Greenland Minerals' environmental protection plan was finally approved in September, paving the way for public hearings required before a licence can be issued.

Effort to diversify the economy 

Despite its independence in 2009, Denmark still retains control over Greenland’s currency, foreign relations and defence policy. 

The effort to open mine sites is in part to boost the island’s revenue for its 56,000 inhabitants.

However, Torben Andersen at the University of Aarhus, thinks a this project alone would not be enough for the island to be financially self-sufficient.

"Economic development requires a broader base, and mining and tourism are the potential pillars in such a process," Andersen, who also chairs Greenland's Economic Council, told AFP.

He claims mining projects could tarnish Greenland’s reputation for its stunning natural beauty and also damage the country’s tourism sector.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies