The death of a Mongolian herder run over by a Chinese truck driver has touched off protests and shed light on one of China's lesser-known ethnic flash points.
Thousands of ethnic Mongolians took to the streets in northeast China this week demanding justice for a herder killed May 10 in a hit-and-run incident while trying to block a caravan of coal trucks from driving over fragile grasslands, a rights group said.
The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center posted photos and video of soldiers in Inner Mongolia's Xilinhot city facing off with dozens of uniformed middle school students and others as they tried to march Monday and Wednesday, demanding justice for the herder. Four protesters were detained on Monday, the New York-based group said in a statement.
It said local officials visited the demonstration site Wednesday and pledged to properly handle disputes between miners and herders and allow state media to report on cases impacting Mongolian herders' rights instead of censoring them. State media are often banned from reporting on politically sensitive issues.
Frustrations over Han Chinese migration into minority enclaves and resource exploitation have boiled over in some of China's other regions, including Tibet and the far western region of Xinjiang. Both areas have seen anti-government protests and eruptions of deadly ethnic violence in recent years.
Inner Mongolia, a Chinese territory bordering Mongolia, has in contrast remained relatively stable, but a rush to tap the area's coal reserves has ratcheted up tensions.
Local Mongolians complain that Chinese miners are displacing herders, destroying grasslands and killing their livestock, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said.
An online statement last week by police in Xiwu Banner, or county, where the hit-and-run incident occurred, said the herder was struck as he and others tried to block coal trucks from driving onto the grasslands, where they whipped up dust and created a disturbance.
Two Chinese drivers, Li Lindong and Lu Xiangdong, were detained May 11 on suspicion of drunk driving, hitting the herder and fleeing the scene, the statement said. It wasn't clear if the men were driving two separate trucks or were in the same vehicle.