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Norway gives go-ahead to disputed Arctic copper mine

OSLO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Norway's government approved on Thursday the building of a copper mine near Europe's northernmost point despite years of opposition from indigenous Sami herders and fishermen.

"The mining project will strengthen the industrial base in the north," Industry Minister Torbjoern Roe Isaksen of the centre-right coalition government said in a statement.

"It will contribute positively to the local community, with new jobs and skills."

Norway's decision on the copper mine has been viewed as a litmus test for the Arctic, where climate change and technology are enabling mineral and energy extraction, shipping and tourism while threatening traditional ways of life.

The Nussir ASA project is expected to bring jobs and investments to the Kvalsund municipality, but the digging could damage reindeer summer pastures and a plan to dump tailings in the fjord would destroy spawning grounds for the coastal cod.

Nussir says the area contains an estimated 72 million tonnes of copper ore -- Norway's largest reserve -- and plans to invest more than 1 billion crowns ($115.77 million) in the mine while making only minimal intrusion in the local way of life.

($1 = 8.6376 Norwegian crowns) (Reporting by Gwlady Fouche, editing by Terje Solsvik)