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China Determined to Suppress Inner Mongolia Protesters

Protesters opposed to the Chinese government policies toward Inner Mongolia shout on the sidewalk outside the White House in Washington, D.C. (File photo)

China says it is addressing recent demonstrations in Inner Mongolia according to the law but it will also take action against those stoking the unrest.

Authorities deployed more police into cities in Inner Mongolia Tuesday and issued a curfew for students and disrupted telephone services.

In Beijing, officials said they are willing to respond to reasonable demands from protesters, but also declared they will crack down hard against those they called troublemakers.

The stern warning from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu follows several days of social unrest and calls for justice by protesting ethnic Mongols. The protests erupted following the deaths of two ethnic Mongols earlier this month during clashes with Han Chinese.

Jiang says local authorities are treating the situation in what she described as the utmost seriousness. She says the officials will respond urgently to the legitimate demands of the protesters but will use the law to protect social order. Jiang also blamed unnamed groups located overseas for contributing to the situation.

While officials routinely blame foreigners and local troublemakers for inciting such protests, analysts say there are also social and economic problems that contribute to the unrest.

China-watcher Joseph Cheung is a Professor of Political Science at the Hong Kong City University. He says the problems in Inner Mongolia, which he says is a sensitive ethnic region similar to restless Tibet and Xinjiang, reflect growing grievances in what he describes as mainstream Chinese society.

"This incident is certainly not isolated. This reflects a very serious situation that in the context of rapid economic development, nonetheless a lot of people in China have a lot of grievances and they are not happy with the situation, especially with regards to the widening of the gap between rich and poor, with the difficulty in finding jobs and with various types of corruption and social injustice,” Cheung said.

He says the situation is so tense that any minor incident has the potential to lead to large-scale, massive protests.

The incident that led to the current demonstrations appears to have been linked to Mongolia’s mining boom, which has brought huge economic benefits and large numbers of ethnic Han Chinese to the region.

Local Mongols blocked a road to stop coal haulers driving over their grazing lands but one herder was struck and killed by a truck. A deadly fight then broke out a few days later at the mining company after a group of Mongols went to complain. One of the protesters allegedly was rammed and killed by a Chinese miner driving a forklift truck.

Chinese leaders worried about the ethnic tension have reacted swiftly, arresting two Chinese and announcing a murder trial. On Monday, China’s powerful Politburo met and said it was critical for the government to ease social tensions and promote fairness.