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N.B. Premier doesn’t plan to meet anti-fracking protesters camped near legislature

New Brunswick Premier David Alward, shown Feb. 5, 2013.

STRINGER/CANADA/REUTERS

New Brunswick Premier David Alward says he has no plans to visit a traditional First Nations longhouse that has been erected across the street from the provincial legislature to protest against shale gas exploration.

Alward said he doesn't see what would be achieved by meeting with Chief Candice Paul of the St. Mary's First Nation.

"Chief Paul has made it quite clear where her position is on resource development and at this point in time I don't see what would be gained," Alward said Wednesday.

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"We've agreed to disagree on it."

Alward said his government remains committed to the development of natural gas in the province. "We cannot afford not to as a province," he said.

Paul could not be reached for comment.

Alward's refusal to meet with Paul comes days after the longhouse was set up.

Shale gas development has been a sensitive issue in the province.

Earlier this month, 40 people were arrested after RCMP enforced an injunction to prevent people from blocking a compound near Rexton, N.B., where SWN Resources was storing exploration equipment.

Police said they seized guns and improvised explosive devices when they enforced the injunction to end the blockade of the compound.

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Six police vehicles were burned and police responded with pepper spray and fired non-lethal beanbag-type bullets to defuse the situation.

Many of the protesters were from the Elsipogtog First Nation.

Alward has met with Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock on the issue but they have not reached any agreements. Alward says he's open to having another meeting but says officials from Elsipogtog have not sought one yet.

The First Nations groups say they have a responsibility to protect the environment and are worried shale gas wells could harm water supplies.

Last week, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said First Nations are not against resource development but will not support resource development at any cost.

Shawn Atleo stated his support for the Elsipogtog First Nation after meeting with the band council, adding that bands are asserting their treaty rights and responsibilities over lands and waters.

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