Inner Mongolia protests prompt police crackdown

 

CHINESE POLICE have imposed tight security in the province of Inner Mongolia following days of protests after the hit-and-run death of an ethnic Mongolian herder, killed when struck by a coal truck in China’s biggest coal producing region. Authorities promised measures to address safety and environmental concerns related to the mining industry in the resource-rich region.

The demonstrations by minorities in Inner Mongolia mark the latest outbreak of ethnic unrest in China. There were similar protests in western China’s Xinjiang region in 2009 and in Tibet in 2008.

Sensitivities to urban unrest and instability are high in China in the wake of uprisings across the Arab world.

Inner Mongolia borders the Republic of Mongolia and many of its people are ethnic Mongolians, though recent years have seen a massive influx of Han Chinese to the region. Mongolians now account for just 20 per cent of the population of 24 million.

“All relevant departments, enterprises and local governments must promptly report and resolve injuries and accidents that occur in mining areas and transportation links, which have caused serious problems and reactions from the people,” the Xinhua news agency said.

Tensions in the region erupted last week after a herder named Mergen was hit by a coal truck while crossing pasture land in the area with his animals, and dragged along for 150m.

Rights groups reported that martial law was declared in some cities following protests over his death, although authorities denied this.

The row highlights the clash of cultures that exists in Inner Mongolia. It is China’s biggest coal-producing region, but also one of the poorest, and drivers often rush to bring coal to the major cities.

Large numbers of police patrolled the regional capital of Hohhot yesterday, and internet restrictions were in place after calls for protests were circulated online at the weekend.

Hu Chunhua, the Communist Party secretary of Inner Mongolia, said recent incidents had “triggered a great deal of public anger”, a local paper reported. He said he would seek to bring the wrongdoer to justice and “firmly protect the dignity of law and the rights of the victims and their families”.

An announcement earlier this week that two Han Chinese had been arrested for homicide has done little to calm the situation.

A Politburo meeting yesterday chaired by Chinese president Hu Jintao said that “elements that can cause disharmony” should be reduced by “the largest degree”.