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Kyrgyzstan declares emergency after bloody gold mine clashes

01 june 2013, 12:32
0
Parts of Kyrgyzstan were under curfew Saturday after clashes between security forces and protesters who want a Canadian-owned gold mine nationalised led the president to declare a state of emergency, AFP reports.

President Almazbek Atambayev signed the declaration Friday for the Dzheti-Ogyzsky district of the northern Issyk Kul region, where the protesters have converged on the mine.

The violence broke out after the arrests of dozens of demonstrators cut off power to the Kumtor mine, owned by the Canadian mining group Centerra Gold.

Prosecutors said 92 people were arrested when security forces moved in to disperse the protest over the mine, retake control of an electrical substation and dismantle the activists' camp.

But this sparked a new protest Friday morning, as thousands of locals began a march to call for their release.

Local media quoted eyewitnesses as saying 3,000 locals from the Dzheti-Ogyzsky district close to the Kazakh and China borders, where the substation is located, staged a march to demand their liberation.

They blocked roads and occupied local administration buildings, the reports said.

One bus transporting special forces was set on fire. The security forces hit back with tear gas and rubber bullets.

At least 55 people, including a dozen members of the security forces, were wounded, said a health ministry statement.

The protesters then marched again on the Tamga substation and, without resistance, switched off the power, as they had done a day earlier.

The activists have called on the government to nationalise the Kumtor mine, which has been wholly owned by Centerra Gold since it started operations in 1997.

Atambayev on Friday declared a state of emergency in the troubled district, which includes a 9:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew. The state of emergency will last until June 10.

"All the organisers of the meeting at Kumtor will be punished in full accordance with the law. I guarantee that as president of the country," said Atambayev.

"We will not give them the chance to shake and destroy the country."

The protests started late on Thursday when hundreds of people stormed the local substation that supplies the high-altitude mine and cut off the electricity.

As a result, production at the mine, one of resource-poor Kyrgyzstan's biggest assets, was halted, Centerra Gold acknowledged in a statement from its Toronto office.

The company acknowledged the steps taken by the Kyrgyz authorities.

But it added: "...until calm returns and safe and secure access can be restored, the Company will continue with an orderly shutdown of the mine facilities."

In the meantime, it was taking steps to ensure the safety of staff and keep the mine on standby with measures to stop any damage from freezing, the statement added.

Shares in the company fell nearly eight percent in trading at the Toronto stock exchange Friday.

Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev blamed the unrest on the "enemies of Kyrgyzstan". The Kyrgyz government said the forced closure of the mine meant the more than a million dollars a day was being lost.

While Kyrgyz officials said power had been restored after the security operation, it was unclear if production at the mine would resume soon.

The government said that the mine's operators now want to evacuate 1,000 workers from the facility, which is located at an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,100 feet) near the scenic Lake Issyk Kul.

The leader of the demonstrators, Ermek Dzhunushbayev, said he would continue to insist that the Kumtor mine either "works for the good of the Kyrgyz people or does not work at all".

Kyrgyzstan, ex-Soviet Central Asia's most volatile republic, has seen two regimes overthrown in uprisings in 2005 and 2010 as well as inter-ethnic bloodletting in the south that claimed hundreds of lives in 2010.

The government has in the past blamed unrest around the Kumtor mine on former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in 2010 and fled to Belarus.

He has already been sentenced to 24 years in prison in absentia over the murder of a top official in 2009.

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