BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) – Protesters clashed with police and tried to break into a building housing the parliament and government offices in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Wednesday during a rally to demand the resignation of the prime minister and other top officials.
Authorities in the Central Asian nation described the mass assault as an attempt to overthrow the government.
Police officers protecting government offices known as the White House used dogs and smoke bombs to disperse a group of young men who attempted to scale the gates.
The Health Ministry said 10 people are being treated for injuries, three of them for gunshot wounds. Officials said no police were injured.
Around 1,000 people gathered in the center of the city for a rally, organized by nationalist politicians Sapar Zhaparov and Kamchibek Tashiyev, ostensibly to demand the nationalization of a controversial gold mine in the east of the nation.
Interior Minister Zarylbek Rysaliyev said those responsible for the violence will be sought out and punished.
Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5 million people on China’s mountainous western border, has come to prominence in recent years because it hosts a U.S. air base used to support military operations in nearby Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan is currently governed by a parliamentary coalition presided over by Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev.
Zhaparov and Tashiyev are members of a virulently nationalist opposition party, Ata-Zhurt, which draws the bulk of its support from the south of the country, which was the scene of deadly ethnic clashes in June 2010.
Ata-Zhurt is the largest party in the turbulent ex-Sovet republic’s parliament, although it is not in the governing coalition.
A lawyer acting for Tashiyev, who was one of a group of people that scaled the White House gates, said the parliamentary deputy is facing charges of attempting to violently overthrow the government.
Prosecutors said last month that they are pursuing criminal charges against Zhaparov on suspicion of fraud. Zhaparov denies he has been involved in any financial wrongdoing and says the investigations are politically motivated.
Wednesday’s gathering was nominally intended to voice discontent over the Kumtor gold mine, which has been the source of a series of toxic spills in past years.
Critics have alleged that Toronto-based Centerra Gold, which is developing Kumtor, has used accounting tricks to reduce its tax liabilities. The company has denied the allegation.
Centerra says its project has generated $1.9 billion in benefits for Kyrgyzstan, including $620 million in taxes. Kumtor accounts for 12 percent of the economy.
Some observers believe that opposition politicians may be using discontent over the mine as a smokescreen for a grab at power.
“It is clear that the situation with Kumtor was just a pretext to destabilize the situation,” said political analyst Mars Sariyev.
Kyrgyzstan 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 cast out of power in May 2005 after a weeks-long sit-in protest against corruption and misrule in the center of the capital.
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.
The constitution introduced in 2010 created a more even balance of power between parliament and the presidency aimed at avoiding the emergence of an authoritarian leadership.
But some politicians, including Tashiyev, who was still being questioned by the security services late Wednesday, have argued that Kyrgyzstan needs to revert to a more presidential model of governance.
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