Ethnic Mongolian herders protested a lead mine operating on grazing land in the latest tension in a Chinese border region that recently saw its biggest demonstrations in two decades, a rights group and a local resident said Thursday.
The herders in Inner Mongolia's Bayannur township were upset that the Bayannur Lead Mine was discharging large amounts of toxic waste that was damaging the environment and killilng livestock, said the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center.
The herders marched to the mine last Friday and shut down a water pump that supplied a shaft, the New York-based group said.
Riot police moved in Saturday and "many herders were beaten severely," the group said in a statement. A local resident said there were about 100 protesters, four people were hurt, two of them police, and a police car was overturned.
The heavily polluting mining industry has fed deep resentment among Mongols. The mining boom has enriched some but pushed further to the margins an already dwindling number of herders _ whose roaming the grasslands with their herds of cattle, goats and sheep lies at the core of Mongol identity.
Last month's protests followed the killings of two Mongols who were trying to block coal-mining and coal-hauling operations that locals complain damage grasslands.
In Bayannur, the protesters are among a group of 600 herders who moved to land near the mine about a decade ago and in recent weeks have been seeking compensation for the pollution caused by the mine, said a Han Chinese woman named Wang Cuiping who lives in housing on the mine compound.
Wang said that nearly two weeks ago, about a hundred of the herders went over to the administration building of the company operating the mine and set up their traditional dome tents in front of the offices in protest. "They just stayed there. Nothing else happened. And the mine bosses knew what they wanted. They wanted money and nothing else," Wang said.
The shutdown of the water pump forced production at the mine to be suspended for two days, she said. She added that the mine agreed to compensate the 600 herders with 1.2 million yuan ($180,000) in total and that the herders left two days ago.
Calls to the offices of the local government, the work safety bureaus and the Bayannur Lead Mine rang unanswered.