Hundreds storm office of Canadian Centerra mine in Kyrgyzstan, 55 wounded in clashes – by Leila Saralayeva (Associated Press/National Post – June 1, 2013)

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BARSKOON, Kyrgyzstan — Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters besieged a Canadian gold mine in Kyrgyzstan on Friday, clashing violently with riot police and prompting the president to declare a state of emergency.

Over 50 people were wounded and 80 detained in the clashes, authorities said. The protest also triggered widespread unrest in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, where hundreds stormed the governor’s office.

The twin developments threatened further turmoil in this impoverished Central Asian nation of five million, which hosts a U.S. base supporting military operations in nearby Afghanistan. Protesters want the northeastern Kumtor gold mine to be nationalized and the company to provide more benefits.

The mine, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold, is the largest foreign-owned gold mine in the former Soviet Union. It accounts for about 12% of the nation’s economy and has been at the centre of heated debate between those favouring nationalization and officials who believe that would deter much-needed foreign investment.

Centerra said Friday that an orderly shutdown of its milling facility using power from a backup diesel generator was continuing and that mining operations have been suspended other than those to manage ice and waste.

“Until safe and secure access and grid power has been restored to the facility it will not be possible for the company to determine the extent of the impact on the operations, including gold production and financial results,” the company said in a statement.

Shares in the company were down 39 cents or nearly 10% at $3.76 in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday.

The demonstrations began earlier this week when protesters blocked the road leading to the mine in the northern Tian Shan mountains.

On Thursday night, several hundred demonstrators, some on horseback, besieged a power transformer unit in the village of Tamga and cut off electricity to the mine for several hours. Riot police moved in overnight, detaining about 80 protesters and restoring the power supply.

By Friday, riot police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse some 2,000 protesters who attempted to storm the Kumtor mine office, the Health Ministry said.

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