BISHKEK, October 8 (RIA Novosti) – Kyrgyz law enforcers have detained over 20 protesters involved in Monday’s riots in the country’s northeast over a controversial Canadian-owned gold mine that has been a target of political wrangling and extortion schemes for years, the Interior Ministry reported.
“Twenty-three participants of a rally in Karakol have been detained. They are all in the national security committee’s Issyk-Kul regional department,” a ministry spokesman told RIA Novosti.
Hundreds of protesters who gathered Monday in front of a government building in Karakol, the administrative center of the northeast Issyk-Kul Province, reportedly demanded the nationalization of the country's largest gold-mining enterprise, the Kumtor Gold Company.
The rally, which started rather peacefully in the afternoon, turned into violent clashes between protesters and riot police as the evening descended.
The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said Monday that the angry crowd pelted police with rocks, injuring at least five officers. Police made attempts to disperse the crowd with tear gas and stun grenades.
The ministry also said the province’s governor, Emil Kaptagaev, was taken hostage by protesters and kept in a car for several hours before being rescued by police. A criminal probe into the governor’s kidnapping has been launched.
There have been reports that several people were injured and are in a hospital in Karakol in satisfactory condition.
The Canadian-run Kumtor gold mine is the largest in Central Asia and produced more than 8.4 million ounces of gold between 1997 and the end of 2011, according to the owner Centerra's website. Under a 2009 agreement, the Kyrgyz government acquired one-third of Centerra.
Centerra’s subsidiary, Kumtor Operating Company, is the largest revenue earner for Kyrgyzstan’s national budget, and accounted for 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP and over half of its industrial output in 2011, according to government statistics.
Centerra reached a memorandum of understanding with Kyrgyzstan in September, paving the way for a tentative deal in which Bishkek and Centerra would form a joint venture with parity ownership. In line with the agreement, the Canadian firm would remain the operator and manager of the mine, and would also receive $100 million, Centerra said last month.
Kyrgyz opposition, however, insists that the government’s stake in the mine should be no less than 70 percent.
Violent protests over Kumtor, which some analysts claim to be part of a well-organized anti-government action or even a “crafty” extortion scheme, have previously flared up sporadically in the region.