Kyrgyz parliament delays Kumtor vote as protests continue

By bne IntelliNews October 10, 2013

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Argument in Kyrgyzstan's parliament over the future of the Kumtor gold mine is set to continue after MPs failed to vote on the issue on October 9. The delay comes as the demands of both deputies and protesters for nationalisation of the mine stretch on.

MPs were expected to vote on a draft agreement thrashed out between the government and Centerra Gold, the current majority owner of Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine. However, disputes over whether the deal on the table is favourable enough for Kyrgyzstan have delayed the process.

Since 2009, the Kyrgyz state has held a minority stake in both Kumtor and parent Centerra, under an agreement struck by former president Kumanbek Bakiyev. However, rising resource nationalism in the country, as well as accusations of corruption by the former leader, has created a long stand off around the project.

In September, Bishkek announced a new deal, under which the government would swap its stake in Centerra for a holding of equal value in a new joint venture to be set up to manage Kumtor. This would hand the state a 50% stake in the mine.

However, at parliament sittings in October, several MPs continued to call for the government to take a stake of at least 70% in the new venture. Some opposition MPs have demanded that the mine be fully nationalised - an option rejected by the government.

Speaking to journalists on October 9, President Almazbek Atambaev called for a roll-call vote on Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan's most divisive political issue. "The deputies must hold a roll-call vote, because if they take a wrong decision and the country is hit by financial crisis, if wages and pensions are delayed, somebody must be held responsible," Atambaev said, according to Reuters.

The president retains a firm pro-investor stance on the issue, and boosted warnings that any draconian step risks deterring much needed foreign investment ahead of the vote. He also launched an attack on the nationalist opposition for stirring up unrest in advance of the planned parliamentary vote. "Their goal is again to disrupt the government and cause chaos in the country. Democracy does not mean mob rule," Atambaev told journalists.

Meanwhile, the latest demonstrations in the mountainous Issyk-Kul region surrounding Kumtor entered their third day on October 9. Around 1,500 people gathered in the central square of the regional administrative centre Karakol on October 7. Initially peaceful, the protest later erupted into clashes between protesters and police. Regional governor Emilbek Kaptagaev was held hostage in a car for several hours before being rescued by police.

By October 9, the situation had stabilised, although a small demonstration continued in the village of Saruu. Meanwhile, 11 members of the Green Party were detained in Bishkek while attempting to organise a rally over Kumtor.

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