Kyrgyzstan declares state of emergency in gold mine protest area
BISHKEK - Agence France-PresseKyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev on Friday declared a state of emergency in the area around a Canadian-owned gold mine after clashes between security forces and demonstrators demanding its nationalisation.
Atambayev signed a decree declaring the state of emergency in the Dzheti-Ogyzsky district of the Issyk-Kul region until June 10 and enforcing a curfew to last from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am local time, the presidency said.
Clashes erupted Friday between Kyrgyzstan security forces and protestors after the arrest of dozens of demonstrators who seized an electricity station and cut off power to a Canadian-owned gold mine.
Prosecutors said that 92 people were arrested when security forces moved in to disperse the protest over the Kumtor mine, retake control of the electricity station and dismantle their tents.
But this then 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 reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
The protestors are demanding the nationalisation of the Kumtor mine which has been wholly owned by the Canadian mining group Centerra Gold since it started operations in 1997.
Hundreds of people late Thursday stormed the local power station that supplies the high-altitude mine and cut off the electricity.
Centerra Gold said its production at the mine, which is one of Kyrgyzstan's biggest assets, has been temporarily halted as a result. "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 President Almazbek 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 a "negative" development of the situation in the region. Kyrgyz officials said power was restored after the security operation but it was unclear if production at the mine would resume soon.
"Ninety-two people have been arrested, there 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-Oguzsky district where the power station 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 metres (13,100 feet) near the scenic Lake Issyk Kul.
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.