By Andrew Brady As protesters in Turkey take the limelight against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) protests are brewing and growing in Kyrgyzstan. The clashes between local people and police have led to i …

Andrew

By Andrew Brady

As protesters in Turkey take the limelight against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) protests are brewing and growing in Kyrgyzstan. The clashes between local people and police have led to injuries as tensions heighten as communities call for a larger share of the profits from the Kumtor mine, owned by Canada’s Centerra Gold group. The Kyrgyzstan Government has now declared a state of emergency around the gold mine. This follows protests earlier in the month against the operations by the Chinese gold mining company Kaidi where roads were blocked by hundreds of protesters in the southern part of the country.

The protests against mining companies follows developments in Skouries (Greece) where another Canadian gold-mining company is staking its claim. Greek company Hellas Gold and its main shareholder, Canada’s Eldorado Gold are working towards establishing a gold and copper mine in the ancient forest of Skouries in the northern region of Halkidiki but residents of the area’s 16 villages are strongly opposed to the project and have held several demonstrations against it over the past year, many of which have turned violent. Further violent clashes have taken place in Zambia and Mozambique where major roads were blocked by protests against Vale and Rio Tinto.

There is no doubt that the protests relate to environmental concerns but perhaps the over-riding factor is of major conglomerates abusing not only the environment but workers and the tax laws on the resident country.

In Kyrgyzstan the mining company says it has paid $1bn (£660m) in taxes since it was formed and spends millions on social projects. Its economic importance for one of the Central Asias poorest countries is enormous, with the mine accounting for 12% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP and more than half of all its exports in 2011. However, the question of who really benefits from the proceeds of this extractive industry in all the aforementioned countries is not in doubt – the mining companies.  Yes, they can dress it up as and make the case for it being a mutually beneficial endeavour but history teaches us otherwise.  In a statement, the Kyrgyzstan Government promised to work towards a bigger share of revenue for the country which has led to speculation about who could be behind the protests or at least fermenting them but at face value the Government are stating that this is what they desire rather than in countries in Africa or in the case of Greece who seem hell bent in allowing companies to not only extract from the ground but also the financial proceeds back to the host country of the company with negligible benefits for the country and local populations.

The Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev met with local residents on June 1 pledged that the government would study protesters’ demands. Satybaldiyev is reported as speaking with representatives of the Canadian-run mining company, who confirmed that electricity had been restored early on June 1 after the cutoff by protesters. He is quoted as saying: “I can’t promise you to change the existing agreement [between Kyrgyz authorities and Centerra Gold] in a matter of a day. I cannot, in a matter of one day, sort out all of these issues that have existed for the last 20 years,” Satybaldiyev said. “You have inspired me and I promise to defend the interests of Kyrgyzstan.” The Central Asian News Service quoted government sources who said a promise was secured that protesters would neither block the road to the mining operations nor cut off electricity to the facility again.

Let’s keep our eye on this one as it could represent an interesting model whereby Government and residents cooperate (openly or clandestinely) in an effort to secure a fairer deal for the country from conglomerates.

 


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