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Scores injured in clashes as Kyrgyz horsemen hold Canadian-owned mine hostage (PHOTOS)

Scores injured in clashes as Kyrgyz horsemen hold Canadian-owned mine hostage (PHOTOS)
Kyrgyzstan authorities on Friday pronounced a state of emergency following clashes around a gold ore mine between protesters and police over Centerra Gold's mine in the north of the country. The violence left over 50 people injured.

"Doctors have provided medical care to 55 people injured in the Dzhety-Oguz district of the Issyk-Kul region during the events over the Kumtor gold mine," a Kyrgyz Health Ministry spokesman told Interfax.

Those injured in northern Kyrgyzstan include 13 law enforcement personnel, five of whom were admitted to the Issyk-Kul regional hospital. Three of them sustained injuries of medium gravity, the ministry spokesman said.

Police used tear gas and stun grenades in clashes with villagers who tried to seize a power station supplying the mine and free the earlier detained protesters. The clashes followed nearly four days of demonstrations in Kyrgyzstan, during which organizers demanded the government cancel its “unfair” contract with Canadian company Centerra Gold, who own the mine.

On Friday evening scores of protesters managed to cut the power supply to the mine, having met no resistance inside the station. After that, most of about three thousands villagers “went to their homes,” according to Kyrgyz authorities.

Local officials said only some 50 men remain at the site of the protest and that they are “not rallying and not blocking the road.” The officials claimed that protesters have agreed to not try turning off the electricity supply again following negotiations, and that the power will soon be restored. 

Kyrgyz police now says they are “controlling the situation” in the region and that the protesters have calmed down. 

The estimated damage caused by the action is equal to $1.4 million, the country’s government said in a statement. Not only was Centerra Gold forced to halt its operations, but the start of the tourist season in Kyrgyzstan was also affected, the statement said.

More than 70% of Russian tourists are said to have cancelled their trips to the region’s central attraction Lake Issyk-Kul. 

The protests started Tuesday afternoon when hundreds of villagers blocked the road to Kumtor, threatening to move on the mine if the government did not tear up its agreement with the Toronto-listed company. The disputed mine is centered around Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold deposit.

Centerra Gold received an environmental claim from the Kyrgyzstan Environmental Protection and Forestry for $315 million for alleged environmental damage. Centerra has said it is studying the claims, but believe they are “exaggerated or without merit” and that the “Kumtor project complies with Kyrgyz Republic laws on environmental, safety and health standards.”

Centerra’s shares have dropped 33 percent in Toronto this year after the Kyrgyz parliament decided to renegotiate the Kumor mine contracts, which stoked fear it could shut down.

The villagers put forward several demands to Centerra Gold which included building roads and a kindergarten, providing long-term loans, offering more jobs and buying equipment for local hospitals.

On Thursday night  protesters took over an electricity substation feeding the mine and forced its operators to cut off power. 

Police then cleared away demonstrators who had been blocking the road to Kumtor and arrested 92 people, according to Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev.

Meanwhile, in southern Kyrgyzstan the protesters have seized a regional administration building in the town of Jalalabad, Reuters reported, citing witnesses.

A witness claimed a crowd broke into the regional governor’s office in Jalalabad, speaking from the scene over the phone.

The building was stormed with demands to release MP Kamchibek Tashiyev, who was jailed in March for attempting to seize power by force, a police source has said.

But the Kyrgyz government said in a statement only a few opposition protesters have entered the building and threatened to use force on them if they did not leave voluntarily.