BEIJING Chinese police beat up and detained ethnic Mongolian herders who protested over the weekend against pollution caused by a lead mine, an overseas rights group said on Thursday, in the latest unrest to strike China's remote Inner Mongolia.
The New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said the protest was sparked this month in Inner Mongolia's Bayannuur after a lead mine expanded onto a piece of grazing land.
"After repeatedly petitioning the (local) governments expressing their concerns regarding the danger to their environment and health with no satisfactory response, on June 24 ... frustrated herders marched to the area of the mine and shut down the mine's water pump," the group said in an emailed statement.
"On June 25, the (local) government mobilized more than 50 riot police and attacked the protesters. Many herders were beaten severely and taken away by police. Their health condition and status are unknown as of the date of this report," it added.
An official reached by telephone at the Bayannuur government said he had not heard of any protests, and declined further comment. Calls to the lead mine went unanswered.
Bayannuur, more than 400 km (300 miles) northeast of Beijing, has been home to a lead mine since 1978, according to the Inner Mongolia government.
The vast northern region of Inner Mongolia was rocked by protests last month sparked by the death of an ethnic Mongolian herder who was hit and killed by a truck after taking part in protests against pollution caused by a coal mine.
Angry ethnic Mongolians took to the streets across Inner Mongolia demanding better protection of the environment as well as their rights and traditions.
This month, a court in Inner Mongolia ordered the execution of a man for murdering the herder.
Beijing, ever worried by threats to stability, is trying to address some of the protesters' broader concerns about the damage done by coal mining to traditional grazing lands.
The authorities have launched a month-long overhaul of the lucrative coal mining industry, vowing to clean up or close polluters.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have complained that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification, and that the government has tried to force them to settle in permanent houses.