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Barrick Gold's Pueblo Viejo in Cotui, Dominican Republic, on Dec. 11, 2013.Ricardo Rojas/Reuters

Civil society groups on Tuesday urged Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp to halt expansion of its Pueblo Viejo gold mine in the Dominican Republic, citing risks posed by increased mine waste and threats to local communities’ rights.

Barrick has proposed a $1.3 billion expansion of the processing plant and waste storage facility to tap lower-grade ore and extend mine life through 2040.

Pueblo Viejo is located about 100 km northwest of the capital Santo Domingo, and is operated by a joint venture in which Barrick holds 60 per cent and Newmont Corp holds the remainder.

On Tuesday, 87 environmental and aid groups signed a letter opposing the expansion and construction of a facility for storing mine waste, known as a tailings dam.

Police and military on April 27 used tear gas to disperse community members opposed to the mine, Jan Morrill at environmental nonprofit Earthworks told Barrick’s virtual shareholder meeting, held on Tuesday.

Barrick Chief Executive Mark Bristow said “detractors” had prevented more than 200 people from participating in a community meeting to discuss the expansion.

“There was a big disturbance and the police did use tear gas to disperse a group of people,” he said during the webcast session.

He said the miner has started formal engagements with communities after more than a year of informal meetings.

Barrick in its annual report said the plant is being upgraded to handle an annual throughput of 14 million tonnes and negotiations to secure land for the proposed new tailings storage facility are under way.

Last year, the mine produced 903,000 ounces of gold on a 100 per cent basis.

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