April 23, 2018 / 11:14 PM / a month ago

As Greenland votes, independence talk muted by fragile economy

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - As voters in Greenland turn out for an election on Tuesday, many hope a new government can get its fragile economy up to speed to realise a long-term goal of independence from Denmark.

Most of the just 56,000 people on the huge Arctic island say they want independence at some point in the future.

But they also point to more acute social problems such as poor housing, a low education level and an economy reliant on fishing and annual grants from Denmark as priorities.

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

It has tried to attract foreign investment into its untapped hydrocarbon and mineral resources as well as into tourism, but a lack of 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.

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 with the country’s sole producing mine starting up last year and an anorthosite project due to begin operations this year, Greenlanders’ hopes are up 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 another lead contender as prime minister. 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.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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