Police in Bishkek clashed with protestors calling for the nationalization of a strategic gold mine on October 3. Dozens of men climbed over the fence surrounding the parliament building, known as the White House, before police drove them away with tear gas and stun grenades.
Two deputies from the nationalist Ata-Jurt (“Fatherland”) party led the protests, which local media reports say were attended by over 1,000 people. Photos show Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev -- who said he suffered a leg injury -- leading the assault. A deputy interior minister said Tashiev led the protestors over the fence.
Another member of Ata-Jurt, Sadyr Japarov, reportedly told protestors to follow him to the White House, where they would “sit in the offices of the deputies, the president, the prime minister,” the Knews.kg news agency quoted him as saying. Ata-Jurt has the most seats in parliament, but is not a member of the ruling coalition.
At least 12 people were injured, Kloop.kg reported, several with gunshot wounds. It is not clear who fired at whom or if some of the rioters were armed. Police were among the injured.
On the surface, protestors were demanding the nationalization of the controversial Kumtor gold mine, which is run by Toronto-based Centerra Gold, arguing that Centerra uses accounting tricks to reduce its tax burden in Kyrgyzstan. The company denies wrongdoing.
Parliament has considered motions to nationalize the mine in recent months. But on October 1, the new prime minister, Jantoro Satybaldiyev, ruled out nationalization, offering a relief to the few embattled foreign investors willing to brave Kyrgyzstan’s volatile politics. Kumtor accounted for 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP in 2011 and more than half its industrial output. Troubles at the high-altitude mine this year, including a strike in February and subsequent ice flows, are expected to shrink Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Many believe Ata-Jurt's Japarov, a former head of the State Agency for Preventing Corruption, is attempting to divert attention from his own unfolding corruption scandal. In mid-September, prosecutors sought to have the MP stripped of his parliamentary immunity so they could file criminal charges against him for illegally acquiring and then selling a property that once belonged to the government. He denies the charges.
Now prosecutors are considering whether he should have his immunity stripped for today's disturbances.
Tashiev, too, may face trouble. Speaking late on October 3, at least one MP said that by leading an attack on the White House, Tashiev may have violated the constitution.
But getting rid of nationalists like Japarov and Tashiev has presented a formidable challenge to the central government in the past. Their Ata-Jurt party draws its support predominantly from rural ethnic Kyrgyz in the south of the country, and from nationalist politicians like the combative Osh mayor, Melisbek Myrzakmatov. On several occasions Myrzakmatov has openly defied Bishkek and rebuffed attempts to unseat him with threats to destabilize the south.