In recent years, Inner Mongolia has become China's leading producer of coal and rare earth elements, squeezing out the indigenous Mongolian community from their homelands. Many locals are from herding families who have been moved into cities as the wide-open pastures are fenced off. The Chinese government says such measures are necessary to promote "development" and protect the fragile grasslands, much of which have turned to desert in recent years. Locals say herders' rights have been violated and the fencing and mining have created bigger environmental problems, including water and land pollution, noise, traffic and coal dust storms that blow across much of north-east Asia.
Chinese authorities also face unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang between herders and mining settlers. Inner Mongolia is usually considered less of a security threat because its overseas supporters are less vocal in calling for independence, it does not have a charismatic leader such as the Dalai Lama and its indigenous community has already been numerically overwhelmed by an influx of Han migrants who comprise 79% of the population. But there is a heavy security presence, and police are showing willingness to quash dissent.
Tensions increased after May 10, 2011, when a Han Chinese coal-truck driver ran over a 35-year-old Mongolian herder, known as Mergen, as Mergen tried to stop a convoy driving across fenced prairies in Xiwu. Allegations that the killing was deliberate inflamed passions in the indigenous Mongolian community, and protests erupted in at least three places.
Five days later, a forklift operator named Yan Wenlong was killed at a coal mine near Xilinhot after he and other locals clashed with company employees in a protest over pollution from the mine.
A peaceful gathering by Mongolian herders and students on May 23 at the banner capital in protest over the killing of Mergen reportedly led to violence and arrests as local authorities ended the demonstration by sending in police and "plain-clothes thugs." Two days later, about two thousand Mongolian herders, high school students and others mounted another demonstration and rally in Shilin Hot city.
Video clips posted online by overseas supporters show herders being arrested after the face-off with military police in Ujumchin the previous week. According to overseas groups, crowds also took to the streets in Huveet Shar on May 26 and Shuluun Huh on May 27 with banners declaring: "Defend the rights of Mongols" and "Defend the homeland". The biggest protest was in Xilinhot, where 1,000 students in yellow and blue uniforms marched through the broad streets to the government headquarters on May 26.
Locals said 35-year-old Mergen was leading about 40 herders who tried to block a convoy of coal trucks from the Tongcheng No 2 colliery. The drivers had reportedly run down fences and intruded on nomads' land to avoid a bumpy road. After a protracted stand-off, the drivers are said to have crashed through the herders, killing Mergen. One widely cited but unverifiable claim is that the driver boasted he was sufficiently insured to cover the death of a "smelly Mongolian herder". The author of this report – a Mongolian blogger named Zorigt – wrote: "In order to take a shortcut, these coal-hauling trucks have randomly run over local herders' grazing lands, not only killing numerous heads of livestock but also further damaging the already weakened fragile grassland."
Mongolian activists called for rolling protests through the region, culminating in a rally in Genghis Khan Square in Hulunbuir on May 23. The authorities have tried to placate protesters by arresting four men for the killing and damage to grasslands, with a promise of a full investigation and compensation for the bereaved. The media outlet The Guardian reported being blocked from entering the road into West Ujimchin where Mergen was killed, told by an officer that it was "Special circumstances. You're not allowed in. It's not safe." At 4.30 the next morning, two plainclothes police entered the Guardian's hotel room, woke the correspondent, and tried to conduct an interrogation.
Locals called for a worldwide demonstration against China for May 29, to demand the rights of Mongolians and the release of detainees. In response, Chinese authorities declared martial law in major cities of the Mongolian region including Hohhot, Tongliao, Ulaanhad (Chifing in Chinese), and Dongsheng in the face of mass protests by students and herders. Tight Security was imposed as the authorities attempted to quash any protest and unrest.
On May 30, 2011, despite the Chinese authorities’ declaration of martial law and deployment of riot police and paramilitary forces in major cities of Southern (Inner) Mongolia, hundreds of Mongolians took to the streets of Hohhot, regional capital. An unconfirmed report from Duowei News, an overseas Chinese news agency, said a government official told its correspondent in Hohhot that "less than 10 protesters were killed" as authorities dispersed the crowd in front of the Government building.
On June 3, 2011 Chinese official stated the government and local agencies are addressing pollution concerns that sparked clashes leading to a wave of ethnic protests across Inner Mongolia. Vice Environment Minister Li Ganjie said that local governments and environmental protection agencies will hold companies accountable that break laws and regulations. Death sentence for coal truck driver
On June 8, 2011, coal truck driver Li Lindong was sentenced to death for killing the Mongolian herder Mergen, who was dragged under Li's vehicle. The verdict of the Intermediate People's Court of the Xilin Gol League in Inner Mongolia was announced immediately after the six-hour trial ended.
Lu Xiangdong, who was sitting beside Li in the truck when Mergen was dragged to his death under the vehicle, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two others, Wu Xiaowei and Li Minggang, were both given jail terms of three years for obstructing justice. The four men said they would appeal.
Mergen and 20 other herders attempted to block Li Lindong's vehicle on May 10 to protest against noise and dust created by coal trucks going through Mergen's village, which is located in the Xi Ujimqin Banner in the Xilin Gol League. According to police, Li Lindong dragged Mergen under his truck for 145 meters before he died. Wu and Li Minggang later blocked the way as police tried to stop the truck, allowing Li Lindong and Lu to escape.
It was reported that on August 25, 2011 that the truck driver who killed Mergen was executed by the Chinese government. June 2011: Death sentence for coal worker
On June 21, 2011, a court in China's vast northern region of Inner Mongolia sentenced to death a coal mine worker, Sun Shuning, for killing a resident, Yan Wenlong, who had complained about pollution from a coal mine. Sun killed Wen with his forklift.
NINGXIA HUI AUTONOMOUS REGION