Kyrgyzstan: self-immolation signals growing unrest

An elderly man set himself on fire as a protest in Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Osh on April 15, and died of his injuries later in a hospital. The incident is being portrayed as a "protest against protests"; he apparently left a note calling on the Central Asian republic's citizens "to stop constant protest actions" and respect the country's leadership. The city is near the border with Uzbekistan, and has seen ongoing rival demonstrations since a wave of deadly clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010. Kyrgyzstan's government has been trying to remove acting mayor Melis Myrzakmatov since the clashes, fearing his Kyrgyz ethno-natoinalist politics are fueling unsrest. His followers have repeatedly rallied in his support, with ethnic Uzbeks holding counter-demonstrations. According to official data, over 3,000 protests took place in the country in 2011; a major mobilization was held in the south this March, with Myrzakmatov's supporters demanding the government's resignation. (RFE.RL, RIA-Novosti, April 16; The Telegraph, March 29; International Crisis Group, March 29)

At the other end of the country, in the Tien Shan Mountains of Issyk-Kul province along the Chinese border, conflict is growing over a controversial mineral project. (See map.) The giant Kumtor mine—run by Canada's Centerra Gold, and critical to Kyrgyzstan's economy—was shut down by a 10-day labor strike in February. In December, production was also halted when protesters interrupted fuel and other supplies to the mine by blocking a road. That dispute was resolved by a deal for more investment in local communities. But in March, with the labor and community disputes on hold, the company was forced to slash output by ice moving into the the pit. (Registan, March 29; Reuters, March 27; Reuters, Dec. 6)

At more than 4,000 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, Kumtor is the second-highest gold mining operation in the world after the Yanacocha gold mine in Peru. The mine was linked to a major environmental disaster in 1998 when a truck carrying 1,762 kilograms of sodium cyanide (used to dissolve gold from granulated ore) fell into the Barskaun River on the way to Kumtor. (Wikipedia)

See our last posts on Kyrgyzstan and the Great Game for Central Asia.

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