protesters lift blockade on Canadian gold mine, but unrest continues
BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN—Protesters have lifted their blockade of a Canadian gold mine in eastern Kyrgyzstan, but their supporters in the south are continuing their siege of a local governor’s headquarters, officials said Saturday. Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters besieged the Kumtor gold mine, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold, for several days, demanding its nationalization and more social benefits.
They blocked a road leading to the mine and cut power supplies, prompting the Kyrgyz president to introduce a state of emergency in the former Soviet Central Asian nation. The violence threatened further turmoil in the country of five million, which hosts a U.S. base that supports military operations in nearby Afghanistan. On Friday, more than 50 people were wounded and 80 detained in violent clashes between stone-throwing protesters trying to storm the Kumtor mine’s office and riot police, who fought back with rubber bullets and stun grenades. The provincial administrator, Bakyt Dzhusubaliyev, said Saturday that protesters have unblocked the road and power to the mine was restored.
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev visited the area Saturday to assess the situation and meet with local residents. He said that protest caused $4 million in damage to the mine. Kumtor is the largest foreign-owned gold mine anywhere in the former Soviet Union. It accounts for about 12 per cent of the Kyrgyzstan’s economy and has been at the centre of heated debate between those who favour nationalization and politicians who believe nationalization would scare off much-needed foreign investment. Satybaldiyev told local residents that the government will make sure that the country gets more revenues from the mine through taxes.
His deputy met with Centerra executives, urging them to restore normal operation as early as Monday. While the situation in the area around the mine appeared to calm down, tensions remained high in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, where protesters stormed the governor’s office Friday demanding the nationalization of the mine and the release of several opposition lawmakers jailed over their role in previous unrest. The protesters retained control of the building on Saturday, and about 300 people were gathering outside. One of their leaders, Chyngiz Abdumomunov, said they wouldn’t leave until the government fulfills their demands