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BARSKOON, Kyrgyzstan – Hundreds of protesters attempted to storm a Canadian gold mine office in Kyrgyzstan on Friday, clashing violently with riot police and prompting the Central Asian nation to declare a state of emergency. Dozens of people were wounded.
Riot police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the stone-throwing protesters, the Health Ministry said, adding that at least 55 people, including 13 police, were wounded in clashes. A police bus was set on fire.
About 2,000 protesters had descended upon the Kumtor mine office near the eastern village of Barskoon, furthering a protest that began earlier this week to demand that the mine be nationalized and provide more social benefits in the impoverished nation.
The mine, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold, is the largest foreign-owned gold mine in the former Soviet Union.
Protesters had blocked the road leading to the mine. On Thursday night, several hundred demonstrators, some on horseback, besieged a power transformer unit and cut off electricity to the mine for several hours.
Riot police moved in overnight, detaining about 80 protesters and restoring the power supply.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev introduced a state of emergency in the area on Friday.
Centerra says the protests are illegal and that it's working with the government and local authorities to resolve the situation.
A senior cabinet member visited the area Friday and tried to persuade the protesters to disperse, saying that further disruptions to the electric supply would have crippled the mine and cost significant economic losses.
"The government is asking you to have patience and wait until the autumn, when we will look at the issue," Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Atakhanov told protesters.
Kumtor, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy of the ex-Soviet nation, has been at the center of heated political debate between those seeking its nationalization and officials who believe that would deter much-needed foreign investment.
Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5 million people on China's mountainous western border, hosts a U.S. air base used to support military operations in nearby Afghanistan.
The nation has seen the overthrow of two governments since gaining independence amid the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the latest after bloody protests in 2010.