China tries four in case that led to Mongol unrest

BEIJING — China put four people on trial Wednesday for the death of an ethnic Mongol herder that sparked protests across the Inner Mongolia region over allegations of resource exploitation and environmental damage.

State-run Xinhua news agency said two coal mining employees, Li Lindong and Lu Xiangdong, faced charges of homicide in the city of Xilinhot over the death of a herder named Mergen on May 10.

He and other Mongols — fed up with an influx of mining companies intent on reaping the region’s rich coal reserves — had attempted to block a number of coal-hauling trucks, including the one driven by the two accused.

But Mergen was struck and dragged for 145 metres (yards), killing him, Xinhua said.

Li and Lu are members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group, and the incident laid bare simmering discontent among China’s Mongol minority.

Subsequent protests by thousands of ethnic Mongols were reported across Inner Mongolia, a vast region of rolling plains and deserts that separates the rest of China from independent Mongolia to the north.

The region has traditionally been home to nomadic Mongol herders.

Two other men, Wu Xiaowei and Li Minggang, are being tried for obstructing justice after they blocked police access to the scene, allowing Li and Lu to escape initially.

The report did not say how long the trial was expected to last.

China moved swiftly in the wake of the protests to tighten security, including sealing off some restive college and high school campuses.

Residents in protest-hit areas have reported that a tense calm has returned.

Many Mongols complain that Chinese culture is swamping their way of life.

In particular, a Chinese government policy to move traditional Mongol herders off the steppe to preserve the grassland ecology is widely considered a pretext to seize lands holding coal and other minerals.

China’s government, apparently rattled by the unrest, has issued a series of pledges to address Mongol concerns, including announcing a crackdown on unmonitored coal extraction and measures to ensure more environmentally sound mining.

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