by Staff Writers
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (AFP) April 04, 2014
Twenty Kyrgyzstan police officers were left injured after clashes with demonstrators who blocked a highway in protests against gold prospecting, the Central Asian country's government said on Friday.
Several hundred villagers in the Talas region of northwestern Kyrgyzstan launched the protest Thursday after a Kazakh company began gold prospecting at a nearby deposit.
Mining is crucial to Kyrgzystan's economy but has prompted a series of bloody protests motivated by fears over foreign ownership of resources and environmental damage.
Residents of Boo-Terek village closed a highway on Thursday after protesting outside the local administration's offices and clashed with police, throwing stones.
The highway remained closed Friday, local media reported.
Twenty police were injured during the clashes, two of them seriously, interior minister Abdulda Suranchiev said Friday, while none of the protesters were injured.
A Kyrgyz opposition alliance member said that police used stun grenades against the protesters, which Suranchiev denied.
Residents have cited fears of environmental damage to livestock and a river close to the Shiralzhin mining site, although the company so far is only carrying out prospecting.
"Such a turn of events should have been predicted and there should have been timely explanatory work with the local population so as to prevent such a direct confrontation," Prime Minister Dzhoomart Otorbayev told ministers Friday, quoted by the government press service.
Otorbayev was appointed prime minister on Thursday after the previous government collapsed last month in the politically volatile country.
He called for an investigation into how the mining company was fulfilling its social commitments towards those living in nearby villages.
"The work at the Shiralzhin deposit has stopped and the machinery is being removed," Rustam Tashiyev, the director of the mining company, Altyn Kumushtak Mining, told local media.
"As of today we have had talks with local authorities and the state geological agency on the problem."
Last year violent clashes between security forces and protesters calling for a Canadian gold mine to be nationalised forced President Almazbek Atambayev to declare a state of emergency.
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