Beijing – Protests are spreading in Inner Mongolia, as demonstrations spread following the death of two local herder leaders opposed to environmental destruction due to coal mining.
Yesterdays, protests were held in two towns in Inner Mongolia, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre (SMHRIC) said.
It has been difficult for the foreign press to reach the area, but pictures were surfaced online showing hundreds of protesters marching through the county seats of Huveet Shar Banner (county) and Left Ujumchin Banner.
The protesters carried banners bearing Mongolian slogans including ‘defend the rights of Mongols’ and ‘defend the homeland.’
Six more protests are planned in other areas of Inner Mongolia from Friday to 2 June, SMHRIC said. Using online social networking, Mongolians were invited to further gatherings in Alshaan Left Banner on Friday, Ordos City on Saturday, and Tongliao on Sunday.
Protest first broke out on Monday in Xilinhot, the administrative centre of Xilin-Gol, when hundreds of ethnic Mongolians gathered in from of a government building after a Mongolian herder leader was killed by a coal hauler driven by ethnic Han Chinese. Mergen, that is the herder leader’s name, was trying to stop coal-hauling lorries from taking a shortcut across fragile grazing land
Photos showing his body were posted online. They show his head, crushed under the wheels of a 100-tonne coal hauler driven by two Han Chinese drivers on 10 May, and his body, dragged by the lorry for 150 metres.
On Tuesday, more than 2,000 people, mostly students, took to the streets in protest, demanding Chinese authorities respect the rights of Mongolian herders to their land and lifestyle.
Indigenous Mongolians have complained for a while that China is only interested in the region’s mineral resources, especially coal. For them, mining and industrial development is destroying grazing land, undermining the traditional herding economy, already under stress from expanding desertification and lack of rain.
Shen Wenyin, deputy chief of the Xilingol League government, said on Tuesday night that the two Han Chinese drivers, Li Lindong and Lu Xiangdong, had been arrested by police. He did not comment the protest.
He did however confirm that residents in the Abag mining area tried to stop operations at a nearby coal mine on 14 May because of noise, dust and water pollution.
One of the protesters, Yan Wenlong, 22, was killed when Sun Shuning, a worker, drove a forklift truck into Yan’s car. Sun was arrested for intentional homicide. Official sources said that the mine stopped operations.
The wave of protests is increasingly taking on an ethnic connotation as indigenous Mongolians resent domination by ethnic Han Chinese who have become the largest ethnic group in Inner Mongolia, following a deliberate immigration policy pursued by Beijing that includes tax and financial breaks as well as other advantages.
Ethnic Mongolians now number only 6 million out of 23 million people in the province, a minority in their native land.
Experts note that the situation remained calm until recently. Things began to change when large-scale environmental degradation began to threaten the local herding economy. Action by ethnic Mongolian groups based abroad has also played a role.