Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Violent Protests in Kyrgyzstan over Kumtor Gold Company

Published in Field Reports

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (the 16/10/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On October 7, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a regional administrative building center of the Issyk-Kul province, demanding the nationalization of Kumtor Gold Company, the country’s most lucrative asset and the largest source of tax revenue. The demonstration, which started off peacefully, later turned into violent clashes with the government’s authorized representative in the region taken hostage and with over twenty rally participants detained.

Protests started on October 7 with the initial participation of 15-20 people, which increased significantly by the afternoon. The government's authorized representative in the region approached the demonstrators to listen to their demands but was taken hostage and forced into a car poured with gasoline. The protesters threatened to set him on fire if the officials failed to meet their demands to nationalize the company. Regional law enforcement officials used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the protesters and freed the official taken captive. As a result of this incident, 23 people were detained and the prosecutor’s office launched investigations on charges of hostage taking, using violence against state officials and death threats. The remaining protesters demanded the immediate release of their comrades and blocked a highway in the region.

The Canadian-run Kumtor gold mining company accounts for more than 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product and remains a great source of social and political turmoil. The Kyrgyz government and the Kumtor Operating Company have recently reached a memorandum of understanding under which the sides agreed to form a joint parity ownership venture with a Kyrgyz representative as Chairman of the Board of Directors. This agreement is currently being discussed in the country’s parliament with opposition factions demanding the government to conduct tough negotiations and increase the country’s share to at least two-thirds, otherwise threatening a no-confidence vote. The leader of the majority coalition Felix Kulov stated that "the current memorandum will not be supported by the Parliament and that the Government must carry out further negotiations to better Kyrgyzstan’s position." Several other members of the Parliament stated that they do not exclude denunciation of previous agreements with the Company. The discussions were postponed and will resume in two weeks’ time. This leaves time for the government to continue holding further negotiations.

President Almazbek Atambayev rejected the demands of the protesters, arguing that the company cannot be nationalized without huge financial losses for the country’s economy. In an effort to discredit the opposition, he invited them to take the lead in the negotiations with Kumtor with the implication that they would not be able to achieve any more than the current agreement. The President went on to describe the protests in the north of the country as simple "banditry" and "terrorism" and stated that the demands for nationalization of the company is simply a cover for the main objective of violently overthrowing the current legitimate power structures. He called on the prosecutors’ office to investigate the case thoroughly and bring the perpetrators, who went as far as to take a senior state official hostage, to justice. The president also called on the organizers of the violent protests to use legitimate means to come to power, i.e. elections, which according to Atambayev will be held in "a true democratic spirit." 

Against the allegations of organizing the violent mass protests in the Issyk-Kul region, the leader of the recently created "Resistance Movement" Omurbek Suvanaliev denied his involvement in the demonstrations. General Suvanaliev stated that he and his supporters were busy organizing a peaceful protest in the Talas region demanding the resignation of the current government and calling President Atambayev to stop power usurpation. This meeting took place on October 10 with a participation of around 150 people and its leaders expressed their readiness to organize similar demonstrations in other parts of the country.

Sergey Masaulov, the president of the Centre for Policy Studies, a representative of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies in Kyrgyzstan, argued that the recent protests go beyond the demands of the local population to nationalize the Kumtor Gold Mining Company. Rather, they reflect the struggle between different political actors for power and represent a significant challenge to the current regime. Their inability to maintain public order, bring the violent protesters to justice and reach a final agreement with foreign investors could potentially result in serious nationwide destabilization.

Read 6954 times Last modified on Thursday, 17 October 2013

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