Kyrgyzstan has declared a state of emergency after bloody clashes between security forces and protesters over the arrests 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 on Friday 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 protesters then marched again on the Tamga substation and without resistance again switched off the power.
The protesters 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.
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Dzheti-Ogyzsky district of the northern 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.
Storming the substation
Hundreds of people late on 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.
“Until calm returns and safe and secure access can be restored, the company will continue with an orderly shutdown of the mine facilities,” it said in a statement.
Essential mine services are being maintained using back-up diesel power generation, and fluids are still circulating at an on-site milling facility in order to ensure there is no damage from freezing, while ice and waste continue to be cleared from the pit.
“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,” 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.
The Kyrgyz government said more than a million dollars a day was being lost a result of the mine’s closure and it was the kind of object whose operation should not stop for a minute.
Kyrgyz officials said power had been restored after the security operation but it was unclear if production at the mine would resume soon.
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 then staged a march to demand their liberation.
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”.
Centerra Gold has already said it is suspending operations at the plant and warned the events could have a negative effect on its profits.