April 23, 2018 / 11:08 PM / 3 months ago

Dog sleds rush in ballots as Greenland voting polls close

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Dog sleds carried some ballots to polling stations for Greenland’s election on Tuesday, a sign of the hurdles the country faces before it gains its long-held goal of independence from Denmark.

Godthaabshallen in Nuuk, Greenland where Greenlanders come to vote, April 24, 2018. Ritzau Scanpix/Christian Klindt Soelbeck/via REUTERS

Just 56,000 people live on the huge Arctic island. It has no roads between the country’s 17 towns and only one commercial international airport.

Consequently, a local fisherman took ballots by dog sled 150 kilometres across Greenland’s ice sheet to Savissivik, one of the island’s most remote towns, near the U.S. air base in Thule, the government said in a press release.

Sara Olsvig, leader of IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit) Party, casts her vote at a polling station in Nuuk, Greenland April 24, 2018. Ritzau Scanpix/Christian Klindt Soelbeck/via REUTERS

Although most Greenlanders say they want independence at some point, they acknowledge acute social problems are more important. Besides the lack of infrastructure, they include poor housing, a low education level and an economy that depends on fishing and annual grants from Denmark.

Greenland, whose capital Nuuk is closer to New York than it is to Copenhagen, became a Danish colony in the early 19th century but has been gradually taking over governing powers since World War Two.

The country has tried to attract foreign investment in its untapped hydrocarbon and mineral resources and in tourism, but the poor infrastructure and slow bureaucracy have limited development.

Now, Greenland is hoping rising commodity prices can help attract foreign investment to get a flagging mining programme on the island back on track. Investors from China to Canada are watching.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Hype about a possible mining boom in Greenland after it achieved self-rule from Denmark in 2009 faded in a morass of red tape and a commodity price slump.

But the country’s sole producing mine started up lastyear and an anorthosite project is due to begin operations this year. Greenlanders’ hopes are rising again.

The country last voted in 2014, when the Social Democrat Siumut party won more than a third of votes. Kim Kielsen, a former policeman, became prime minister when Aleqa Hammond was forced to resign after a scandal involving spending of public money on hotels and flights.

Sara Olsvig of the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party (IA) is a lead contender for prime minister in the current election. The most recent poll shows that the two parties are likely to continue working together in a coalition, possibly with Demokraterne, Greenland’s third-biggest party.

Voting stations on Greenland’s west coast close at 2300 GMT. The result will be ready early Wednesday.

($1 = 6 Danish crowns)

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; editing by Larry King

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