Huge Security Presence in Hohhot

China's clampdown in Inner Mongolia intensifies.

Chinese security personnel at the Inner Mongolia Normal University campus in the regional capital Hohhot, May 31, 2011.

Chinese authorities have poured security personnel and armored vehicles into Inner Mongolia following region-wide protests over exploitation of grasslands and herders' rights.

"As I got on the train at Hohhot [the regional capital], the place looked like it was preparing for war," said a source in the region on Thursday. "There were special police everywhere wearing bulletproof vests."

"They were carrying automatic weapons and pointing them at the passengers in the Hohhot railway station."

"We got out of there and onto the train as quick as we could. There were armored vehicles there as well."

At her destination in Chifeng, also known as Ulanhad, a city in southeastern Inner Mongolia, she said the security presence was just as strong.

"There were police cars all along the street," the source said.

'I can't go out'

She said her company had received an order from officials warning it not to send its employees to Hohhot or the eastern city of Xilinhot on business.

"At the time, I had already arrived in Hohhot, so that means I can't go out on the streets."

She said a row of Mongolian-style milk teashops were taken up entirely with police officers.

"They had taken up all the tables," she said.

She said the atmosphere in Hohhot was especially tense around the university district.

"I always thought the government, the police, and our sons and brothers in the army, were supposed to serve the people," she said.

"They should be broadcasting this live to tell ordinary Chinese people what is going on in Inner Mongolia, and to apologize to them."

Wang Ning, a former resident of Shiliin-Gol now living in New Zealand, said he had been in touch with a professor at one of Inner Mongolia's universities.

"I think he must be under an awful lot of pressure," Wang said. "He told me they couldn't walk around the streets and that they weren't allowed to talk about the situation in the university to anyone outside."

"He said the atmosphere was very similar to that [in Beijing] in the immediate aftermath of the June 4 crackdown [of 1989]."

Widespread anger

In mid-May, a wave of protests across the Inner Mongolia region was sparked by the death of a herdsman from the Shiliin-Gol (in Chinese, Xilin Meng) area following clashes over mine pollution between herding communities and mining company truck drivers.

Experts said the protests reflect a deep and widespread anger over continuing exploitation of the region's grasslands, the heartland of Mongol culture.

The herders are calling for an end to open-cast mining, or strip-mining, of coal in their pastures.

Environmentalists say strip-mining is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of mining, destroying the surface ecosystem over a wide area, creating noise and vibration, and releasing pollutants into the air.

Weeks of unrest

The protests were sparked by the death of a herder named Murgen, sparking a region-wide crackdown in which the authorities confined thousands of students at major schools, colleges, and universities in the regional capital to campus.

The Hohhot clampdown also followed demonstrations during the past week by hundreds of ethnic minority Mongolians who called for better rights protection for Mongolians and the release of detainees.

The U.S.-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said an estimated 40 people have been detained since major protests erupted in Xilin last month.

Officials have responded by vowing to hold talks with protesters and agreeing to accept "reasonable" demands.

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's 23 million population, complain of destruction and unfair development policies in the region, which is China's largest producer of coal. The overwhelming majority of the residents are Han Chinese.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Mandarin service and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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