Fresh unrest reported in China's Mongol region

BEIJING - Riot police have moved in to put down fresh unrest by ethnic Mongols in northern China, a month after widespread protests over resource exploitation and Chinese rule, a rights group said Thursday.

Mongol students and traditional herders in the Inner Mongolia region marched last Friday to a lead mine that they blame for discharging toxic waste into the local environment, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said.

But about 50 riot police moved in a day later, beating or taking away "many" protesters, it said. The fate of those taken away was unknown, it added.

China has tightened security while pledging repeatedly to address environmental problems stemming from rampant mining following protests last month across Inner Mongolia that were sparked by the death of a Mongol herder.

The herder was struck and killed on May 10 by a coal-mining truck driven by a member of China's dominant Han ethnic group while participating in a protest aimed at blocking an influx of mining operators to the region's rolling plains.

The unrest laid bare the anger of Mongols, many of whom say their culture is being slowly extinguished.

The latest march marked the climax of two weeks of protesting and petitioning the local government over the Bayannuur Lead Mine near the city of Chifeng, the New York-based SMHRIC said.

The group said the mine was opened on grazing land used by Mongol pastoral herders, who allege the waste discharges were causing severe environmental degradation and livestock deaths.

During the march, the protesters shut down a mine water pump, it said, giving no further details on their actions.

Government and police officials in the area either refused comment or said they had no knowledge of any incident when contacted by AFP by phone.

A court in the region last month sentenced to death the driver of the truck in the May 10 incident. Three others also received stiff sentences for various roles in the case.

Chinese authorities have issued a number of pledges to address Mongol concerns since the unrest broke out, including announcing a crackdown on unmonitored coal extraction and measures to ensure more environmentally sound mining.