China's Inner Mongolia region under heavy security

BEIJING – Authorities poured more police into the streets and slowed Internet service in several parts of China's Inner Mongolia on Monday, trying to head off more protests in a resource-rich borderland not usually troubled by ethnic tensions.

Large numbers of police patrolled the regional capital, Hohhot, especially around the main square, where Internet messages over the weekend urged people to gather in protest Monday, people reached by phone said. In Chifeng city, where a rights group said hundreds protested Sunday, police were everywhere, residents reached by phone said.

People in both cities complained that the Internet was inaccessible or slow.

"We lost access to the Internet. And there's no point in going to the Internet cafes since they have suspended business because the Internet is down there too," said a waitress at the Laozhuancun restaurant around the corner from government offices in Chifeng. She would only give her surname, Wang.

The controls in Hohhot and Chifeng widen the security measures applied to a more remote part of Inner Mongolia to stop demonstrations believed to be the largest in the region in 20 years. The protests started after a Chinese truck driver struck and killed a Mongolian herder and soon came to encompass calls for ethnic rights — a worrisome development to China's authorities battling persistent nationalism in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Trying to calm tensions, Inner Mongolia's Communist Party chief took the unusual step of meeting with students and teachers in a town that staged one of the largest protests last week. At the Friday meeting, Hu Chunhua promised swift punishment to perpetrators in two cases in the Xilin Gol area that angered local residents, the state-run Inner Mongolia Daily reported Sunday.

Though he did not specify, the two cases Hu is understood to be referring to were the herder's death and the death of a resident in a mining area over a coal mine dispute. Local authorities had earlier this week announced arrests in both cases.

"Teachers and students, please rest assured that the suspects will be punished severely and quickly, in accordance with legal procedures, to resolutely safeguard the dignity of the law and rights of the victims and their families," the report cited Hu as saying.

Inner Mongolia, a sprawling area of pasturelands that sits atop northern China bordering the independent nation of Mongolia, has seen a boom in the mining of coal and rare earths in recent years. That has drawn more workers into the region, further degraded the grasslands where herders grazed their sheep and cattle and made Mongols feels that their ethnic identity is under threat.

Those complaints echo ones from places like Tibet and Xinjiang. But unlike Tibetans in Tibet and Uighurs in Xinjiang, ethnic Mongolians are a small minority, fewer than 20 percent of the 24 million who live in Inner Mongolia. Many speak little or no Mongolian, having been educated in Chinese school systems.

On May 10, herders angry at truckers for driving over their grazing lands blocked a road, and one truck driver struck and killed a herder. Authorities later arrested two Chinese in the death.

In the other case, residents in a mining area tried on May 14 to stop a coal mine's operations because of the air and water pollution it was causing, but one of them was killed after a mine worker drove a forklift truck into his car, state media earlier reported. The miner was arrested.

Source:AP news service




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