BISHKEK, October 9 (RIA Novosti) – Kyrgyz police on Wednesday briefly detained a group of opposition leaders preparing to rally in the capital amid parliamentary debates about a controversial Canadian-run goldmine.
A leader of the opposition movement El Unu, or “People's Voice,” told RIA Novosti that he and other opposition leaders, including Green Party chief Erkin Bulekbaev, had been detained just before the rally was supposed to begin.
El Unu leader, Mambetzhunus Abylov, said the detainees were taken to a police department but were released after police registered them as committing an administrative offense.
In March, El Unu submitted a bill to parliament to terminate the government’s agreement with the Toronto-listed Centerra Gold, which runs the Kumtor mine in the country’s northeast.
One of the largest goldmines in Central Asia, Kumtor has for the past year been at the center of a tussle between Centerra Gold and the government of Kyrgyzstan, which has fought to boost its control over the project.
El Unu, which comprises eight opposition parties and a number of small environmentally oriented public organizations, was established last year and has not yet had a chance to participate in legislative elections.
But the movement was able to submit the bill to parliament by gathering 36,000 signatures. A constitutional provision stipulates that 10,000 registered voters have the right to initiate a bill.
Centerra’s subsidiary, Kumtor Operating Company, is the largest revenue earner for Kyrgyzstan’s national budget and accounted for 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP and over half of its industrial output in 2011, according to government statistics. Under a 2009 agreement, the Kyrgyz government acquired one-third of Centerra.
The lucrative mine, which produced more than 8.4 million ounces of gold between 1997 and the end of 2011, for years has been a target of political wrangling and extortion schemes.
In the latest round of tensions, violence flared on Monday in Kyrgyzstan as protestors reportedly demanded the nationalization of the country's largest gold-mining enterprise. The rally, which started rather peacefully in the afternoon, turned into violent clashes between protesters and riot police as the evening descended.
Centerra reached a memorandum of understanding with Kyrgyzstan in September, paving the way for a tentative deal in which Bishkek and Centerra would form a joint venture with parity ownership.
In line with the agreement, the Canadian firm would remain the operator and manager of the mine, and would also receive $100 million, Centerra said last month.
Kyrgyz opposition, however, insists that the government’s stake in the mine should be no less than 70 percent.