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Kyrgyz Protesters Again Block Highway In Gold-Mine Protest

  • RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Protesters demanding the nationalization of Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine, Kumtor, have again barricaded a highway in Kyrgyzstan's northern Issyk-Kul Province -- this time with burning tires -- after briefly dismantling the barriers.

Local officials are currently holding talks with protest leaders. Parliament is scheduled to look into the protests.

Officials said on October 8 that lawmakers will also look into a new draft deal with Canada's Centerra Gold on operating the Kumtor mine on October 9.

Some 400 protesters had blockaded the Karakol-Bishkek highway with felled trees and at least one overturned car earlier on October 8.

One of the protesters, who identified himself as Abylas Usenbaev, told RFE/RL that 100 men on horseback, armed with Molotov cocktails, would be used against police if they tried to clear the highway.

Usenbaev said the protesters were also demanding the immediate release of those arrested by police in the regional capital, Karakol, on October 7.

"We are here for the truth! We will stand for Kumtor to the end. Kumtor is ours! It is our nation's revenue! We will stand for Kumtor to the end," Usenbaev said.

"We did not break any law yesterday. Not a single hair fell off anyone's head. But the government did it. It is the government's fault! They must not accuse the people now," he added.

The police "detained two guys [from our village]. Well, they detained 28 people, but even if they detain all of us, we are ready for it."

Some 100 protesters remain at the site of the highway blockade, demanding the release of their 23 detained comrades.

PHOTO GALLERY: Protesters block road in northen province.


Held Hostage In Gasoline-Doused Car

Law enforcement forces in Karakol used tear gas and stun grenades on October 7 to disperse at least 600 protesters who had taken a regional official hostage.

The protesters in Karakol forced the government's envoy in the region, Emil Kaptagaev, into a car, poured gasoline onto the vehicle, and threatened to light it if their demands on Kumtor were not met.

The protesters allowed RFE/RL correspondent Maria Kolesnikova to talk to Kaptagaev, who spent several hours in the vehicle. He complained about the conditions.

"There's too much gasoline here," Kaptagaev said. "Too much gasoline, even inside the car. I am dizzy. The gasoline smells really bad. So very dizzy, really...."

Kaptagaev managed to say that he personally could not solve the issue of Kumtor, adding that it was up to the parliament.

Kaptagaev was freed unharmed after police dispersed the protesters.

Kyrygz President Almazbek Atambaev called for a thorough investigation of the violence.

Prosecutors in Issyk-Kul have launched investigations into charges of hostage taking, violence against officials, hooliganism, and death threats.

In late May, thousands of protesters clashed with police near the Kumtor mine, demanding its nationalization and accusing the operator, Canada-based Centerra Gold, of paying too little in taxes and causing environmental damage.

The incident prompted the government to work out a memorandum last month that outlines a new, more lucrative deal with Centerra Gold on operating the mine.

The Kumtor mine accounts for 12 percent of the Kyrgyz economy.
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