“When you do an internet search of Inner Mongolia, nothing comes up”
On May 11, a 35 year old ethnic Mongol herder called Mergen was crushed to death as he unsuccessfully tried to block a truck transporting coal. He was demonstrating against over-mining in his region, the Inner-Mongolia autonomous region in China. His death unleashed an unprecedented rebel movement in the isolated rural area, which was brutally repressed by authorities. A handful of amateur videos bear witness to the otherwise unreported violence.
All throughout the day of May 10, some 50 herders from Shilingol, a prefecture of Inner Mongolia, attempted to block a convoy of 100 trucks transporting coal. Just after midnight, several truck drivers decided to force their way through the shepherds’ roadblock. According the South Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre (SMHRIC), Mergen’s body was dragged for 150 metres by one of the trucks before several other vehicles rolled over it.
The trucks’ two drivers were arrested the following day and charged with murder. The shepherd’s family were given compensation of more than 560,000 yuan (60,000 euros) by the state, a huge sum which government critics believe was intended to silence the family.
Nevertheless, several days later, thousands of Mongolians from several nearby towns took up Mergen’s struggle. On May 27, hundreds of protestors, most of which were students, clashed with anti-riot police in the regional capital Hohhot. Human rights organizations reported that over 40 people were arrested, although the authorities claim that there were only four arrests.
China has accused unspecified “foreign forces” of trying to exploit the protests – allegations similar to those it made following anti-Chinese unrest in Tibet in 2008 and northwestern Xinjang the following year. However the official party line contrasted with the words of a local Communist party leader who on Sunday assured students that he “understood their position” and promised that the truck drivers would be “severely and swiftly punished”.
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