BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — About 700 protesters, some on horseback, besieged a gold mine run by a Canadian-based mining company in Kyrgyzstan, demanding its nationalization and more social benefits, officials said Thursday.
As part of the protest that has been going on for several days, the demonstrators have cut the road leading to the Kumtor mine operated by Centerra Gold, the company said in a statement Wednesday, saying it's continuing operations despite the blockade.
But on Thursday some of the protesters entered a power transformer unit and cut electricity to the mine before dispersing for the night.
The Kyrgyz Cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. Officials said that if the electricity supply isn't quickly restored, it could lead to an emergency shutdown of the mine. It wasn't immediately clear what impact the power cut had on the mine.
Kumtor, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy of the impoverished ex-Soviet nation, was at the center of heated political debate among those seeking its nationalization and officials who believe that would deter much-needed foreign investment.
Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5 million people on China's mountainous western border, hosts a U.S. air base used to support military operations in nearby Afghanistan.
The nation has seen the overthrow of two governments in its short history since gaining independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
President Askar Akayev was driven out of power in May 2005 after a weeks-long sit-in protest against poverty and corruption. Five years later, several dozen were shot dead by government troops when angry mobs attacked the presidential administration building in unrest that led to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's ouster.