Kyrgyzstan Declares Emergency after Bloody Gold Mine Clashes

Kyrgyzstan on Friday declared a state of emergency after bloody clashes between security forces and protestors over the arrest of dozens of demonstrators who cut off power to a Canadian-owned gold mine they want nationalised.

Prosecutors said that 92 people were arrested when security forces moved in to disperse the protest over the Kumtor mine, retake control of an electrical substation and dismantle their tents.

But this in turn sparked a new protest Friday morning as thousands of locals began a march to call for the release of those detained, clashing with security forces who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

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

The protestors are demanding the nationalization of the Kumtor mine which has been wholly owned by the Canadian mining group Centerra Gold since it started operations in 1997.

Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Dzheti-Ogyzsky district of the Issyk-Kul region where the mine and electrical substation are located.

The state of emergency will last until June 10 and a curfew will last from 9 pm to 6 am local time, the presidency said.

Hundreds of people late Thursday stormed the local substation that supplies the high-altitude mine and cut off the electricity.

Centerra Gold said its production at the mine, which is one of resource-poor Kyrgyzstan's biggest assets, has been temporarily halted as a result.

"All the organizers 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," he added.

Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev blamed the unrest on the "enemies of Kyrgyzstan" and said that the government was prepared for "negative" developments of the situation in the region.

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

"Ninety-two people have been arrested, these are those who took direct part in the action to cut off power to Kumtor," Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor general Aida Salyanova told reporters in Bishkek.

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

The crowd was blocking roads and even occupying local administration buildings, the reports said. One bus transporting special forces was set on fire and police in return used tear gas and fired rubber bullets.

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 meters (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".

He said the demonstrators would once again march on the electrical substation they had seized the night before "and if our demands are not fulfilled, we will once again switch the power off".

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.

Source: Agence France Presse

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