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Kyrgyz Lawmakers Discuss Kumtor Gold Mine Deal After Protests

  • RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Protesters in Issyk-Kul set fire to a car and block the road on October 8.

Protesters in Issyk-Kul set fire to a car and block the road on October 8.

BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz parliament is discussing a new deal with Canada's Centerra Gold company on operating Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine, Kumtor.

The parliamentary debate on October 9 follows protests in the northern Issyk-Kul Province demanding the nationalization of Kumtor.

President Almazbek Atambaev described the protests as "banditry" and "terrorism," and said Kumtor could not be nationalized without huge financial losses for the Kyrgyz economy.

"The Kumtor [issue] will be discussed in principle. The parliament will make a decision. And the decision will be the one [the parliament] chooses. Nobody will impose pressure on the parliament," Atambaev said.

"If [the parliament] wants to nationalize [Kumtor], let them nationalize it. If they, in fact, want to help create a new [business] group, let them create the group and try to get 67 percent" of Kumtor's shares.

The president added that the protesters "had a different goal. If they had demands regarding Kumtor, why did they take a hostage? Why did they pour gasoline on him? Why did they try to set him on fire? That is mere banditry, terrorism."

Profit Sharing

The Kumtor mine is Kyrgyzstan's main foreign currency earner and accounted for 12 percent of 2011 gross domestic product in Kyrgyzstan.

Atambaev's government and Centerra last month signed a memorandum of understanding under which Kyrgyzstan will swap its 32.7 percent stake for 50 percent of a joint venture.

The opposition wants the government either to increase its share to at least two-thirds or nationalize the gold mine, threatening a no-confidence vote in the government if it fails to do so.

Protesters in the regional capital, Karakol, took the government envoy to the region, Emil Kaptagaev, hostage on October 7 and threatened to set him on fire if their demands to nationalize Kumtor were not met.

On October 8, demonstrators blocked a highway in Issyk-Kul, demanding the release of some 20 people detained during the protest the day before.

Atambaev said political forces wishing "to get portfolios" and continue "to rob the country" were behind this week's protests.

With reporting by Reuters and ITAR-TASS