Anglo-Australian firm Rio Tinto’s plan to expand a copper mine in Mongolia will go ahead, the country’s mining minister said, according to the Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday.

The project has been disrupted by protests from locals worried about environmental damage and foreign influence.

However, Dolgorsurengiin Sumyaabazar said the plan to expand the partially state-owned Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert would “not be stopped.”

The plan “would proceed directly forward,” he said at the Mines and Money conference in London, according to the FT.

The minister said the Mongolian national security council chaired by President Khaltmaa Battulga had accepted a parliamentary motion to do so, the FT reported.

Mongolia owns 34% of the mining project. Rio Tinto was not immediately available for comment.

Rio Tinto and Mongolia reached an agreement in May 2015 to exploit vast copper and gold deposits in the Gobi desert.

But the project has been hampered by protests in a country that is highly dependent on mineral resources.

AFP