* Row over gold venture with Canada company sparks unrest
* Protest leader calls for toppling of Kyrgyz government
* Such rallies triggered two violent coups since 2005
* Stand-off with nationalists may deepen north-south divide
* Centerra shares fall about 1 pct to C$12.28 in Toronto
By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK, Oct 3 Kyrgyz police fired tear gas on
Wednesday to stop protesters storming government headquarters in
what their leader called a coup bid after the new premier
rejected demands to nationalise a gold-mining venture with a
The volatile Central Asian state has seen several attacks on
the government since Kyrgyzstan's independence from the Soviet
Union in 1991. The bloodiest protests, in March 2005 and April
2010, toppled two presidents, who then fled abroad.
Wednesday's rally, with its direct call to overthrow the
government, was the most violent in the capital Bishkek since
the April 2010 revolt that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The clashes erupted two days after new Prime Minister
Zhantoro Satybaldiyev travelled to the Kumtor gold mine operated
by Canada's Centerra Gold Inc and gave assurances the
venture would not be nationalised.
His pledges to defend foreign investment vital to
Kyrgyzstan's economy angered local nationalists, who failed to
muster enough support in parliament in June to pass a law that
would have placed the Kumtor mine under state ownership.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades to clear some 2,000
demonstrators from Bishkek's central Ala Too square after about
200 people climbed a fence surrounding the building housing the
government and parliament.
"We must occupy the offices of ministers and members of
parliament and spend nights there ... in order to create a new
state system which will truly serve the people," Kamchibek
Tashiyev, leader of the parliamentary faction of the nationalist
Ata Zhurt party, told supporters from the back of a truck.
Brief scuffles broke out, with Tashiyev's mainly young
supporters pelting police with stones.
"I will assume all responsibility, follow me!" Tashiyev
shouted through a megaphone.
"Bureaucrats in the government promised that they would take
Kumtor back and it would work for the good of the people ...
Kumtor belongs to our nation, and we must change the entire
state system and replace this government."
Police managed to repel protesters into side streets while
several hundred others - some on horseback - took up guard along
the perimeter of the white-marble government building popularly
known as "The White House".
Kyrgyzstan's GKNB security service, police and prosecutors
will jointly investigate Wednesday's clashes and decide whether
some protesters should be charged, a police spokesman said.
Tashiyev's whereabouts after the clash were unknown.
NATIONALISM WIDENS REGIONAL SCHISM
Satybaldiyev, a 56-year-old technocrat, was elected by an
overwhelming vote in parliament on Sept. 5 on pledges to fight
corruption and restore economic growth in the mountainous,
mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million people.
Kyrgyzstan, which hosts both U.S. and Russian military air
bases, lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan.
Kumtor Operating Co - the largest gold mine operated in
Central Asia by a Western-based concern - is vital for the shaky
Kyrgyz economy. It accounted for 12 percent of gross domestic
product and more than half of all Kyrgyz exports in 2011.
Earlier official attempts to attract large-scale investment
to the impoverished but resource-rich country snagged on
protests by nationalists angered by what they describe as a
sell-off of Kyrgyzstan to foreigners.
Centerra, which has operated in Kyrgyzstan since the 1990s,
reached a revised ownership agreement with the government in
2009. The state holds a 33 percent stake in the company, and
also receives a 14 percent tax on gross revenue from its Kumtor
mine, a Centerra spokesman said.
Gold output at Kumtor has sagged this year, as ice movement
in the high-altitude pit slowed operations, leading the company
to trim its production forecast by a third earlier this year.
On Aug. 28, the Kyrgyz government had to cancel its first
televised auction aiming to sell new mining licences after
nationalist protesters stormed a TV studio.
Analysts say nationalist attempts to use Kumtor to remove
the government may not only scare off potential investors but
also deepen the divide between Kyrgyzstan's more developed north
and ethnically divided south.
In June 2010, around 500 people died in ethnic clashes
between Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz, whose epicentre was in the city
of Osh, the unofficial capital of Kyrgyzstan's south.
Bishkek's grip is tenuous in the poorer, nationalist south
where Tashiyev's Ata Zhurt party and allies have strong support.
"I am afraid that if this nationalist regionalism spreads,
there is a risk that Tashiyev will now mobilise more and more of
his supporters in the south," said politologist Mars Sariyev.
Shares of Centerra fell 1.13 percent to C$12.28 on Wednesday
morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The stock is down more
than 30 percent this year.