The top political leader of China’s vast northern region of Inner Mongolia had a meeting with local students in a bid to placate public anger, state media reported, after the hit-and-run death of a herder sparked six days of protests by ethnic Mongolians.
In the first response from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the demonstrations, Inner Mongolia’s CCP chief Hu Chunhua (胡春華) told students and teachers on Friday that he was representing the government to seek their views on the situation and said “public anger has been immense.”
“Please be assured, teachers and students, that the suspects ... will be punished severely and quickly, so that the ... rights of victims and their families can be resolutely safeguarded,” the Inner Mongolian Daily cited Hu as saying.
Hundreds of Mongolian herders and students have taken to the streets, angered by the death this month of a herder, Mergen, after being struck by a coal truck. The government announced the arrest of two Han Chinese for homicide, but that failed to stem public anger.
China sealed off parts of Inner Mongolia, a resource-rich region strategically located on the borders of Russia and Mongolia, after the demonstrations.
Some residents said parts of Inner Mongolia had been placed under “martial law.”
In a separate incident, one man died four days later after residents of Abaga Banner, or county, in Inner Mongolia clashed with coal miners because of complaints of pollution from the mines.
Hu said “we must correctly handle the relationship between the exploration of resources and the protection of the interests of people” in Inner Mongolia, China’s largest producer of coal.
“In the development process, it is necessary that safeguarding the interests of the masses must be the fundamental starting point,” Hu was quoted as saying in the report.
Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, rarely take to the streets, unlike Tibetans or Xinjiang’s Uighurs, making the latest protests highly unusual.
Inner Mongolia, which covers more than a tenth of China’s land mass and borders Mongolia proper, is supposed to offer a high degree of self-rule, but Mongolians say the Han majority run the show and have been the main beneficiaries of economic development.