Ethnic Mongolian herders in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia have protested against the local government for allowing a local businesswoman to illegally seize their land, an overseas rights group said, revealing fresh tensions after bloody riots rocked the region in May.
Over 1,000 herders demonstrated calling for the return of their land on July 18 in Bairin Right Banner and Sharmurun Som (in Chinese, Balin Youqi and Xilamulun Sumu), the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on Saturday.
Around 300 riot police and local officials were dispatched to quell the protest, in which dozens were injured, the group said.
The protests were triggered after a local Han Chinese businesswoman surnamed Sui allegedly hired more than 200 Han Chinese to kill livestock belonging to ethnic Mongolian herdsmen by running them over with cars and bulldozers, and also beat up herdsmen who resisted the land grab, according to SMHRIC.
One herder was brutally beaten while tending sheep in his grazing land, and dozens of others were hospitalized, the group said.
"Angry herders protested strongly against those Chinese thugs hired by Sui to kill the livestock grazing on the land," one Mongolian herder from Sharmurun Som who was on the scene told SMHRIC.
In May, Inner Mongolia saw its worst unrest in years after the death of an ethnic Mongolian herder in a standoff with mining company employees sparked large-scale protests across the region.
As students and herders took to the streets to demand better protection of the environment and their rights and traditions, Beijing poured large numbers of troops into the region and enforced a security lock-in at schools, universities, and government institutions.
A truck driver who caused the death of the local herdsman identified as Murgen was sentenced to death in June. A second driver was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the standoff over complaints by local herding communities that strip-mining operations are ruining their environment and livelihood.
Rights groups say the punishment failed to appease the local people, reflecting a deep and widespread anger over continuing exploitation of the region's grasslands, the heartland of Mongol culture.
"After the death of Mr. Murgen that ignited the large scale protests in May, this is another serious case in which again Mongolian herders risked their lives for defending their land," said an online appeal letter rallying Mongolians to protest in solidarity.
On Thursday, Chinese state media announced new guidelines that require mining companies to include herders in their development plans, as Beijing moves to address anger at miners in the region.
According to the guidelines, mining companies must give priority to employing herders and their families whose land is affected by mining and also offer other compensation.
In addition, on Sunday, the ruling Communist Party of China's disciplinary watchdog said that former vice chairman of the region, Liu Zhuozhi, has been expelled from the party for corruption.
Liu, who was identified with promoting the region's mining boom, was sacked from his position last December.
Mongols are a recognized ethnic minority in China and number around 6 million according to government statistics.
They now make up less than 20 percent of the population of Inner Mongolia, which is China's biggest coal-producing region.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.