* Mild sentences expose authorities' weakness - analyst
* Crowd outside court hails plotters as national heroes
* Canada's Centerra Gold embroiled in Kyrgyz power
* Authorities claiming damages, new contract from Centerra
By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK, March 29 A court in Kyrgyzstan
sentenced three opposition members of parliament to up to 18
months in jail on Friday for leading a protest the judge said
had aimed to seize power by force in the Central Asian nation.
Prosecutors had sought jail terms of up to 10 years for
nationalist MPs Kamchibek Tashiyev, Sadyr Zhaparov and Talant
Mamytov, who led a crowd which tried to storm government
headquarters last October.
The protestors were demanding the renationalisation of the
huge Kumtor gold mine, long a bone of contention in the
impoverished former Soviet Union state of 5.5 million and run by
Canadian firm Centerra Gold.
The clashes between police and supporters of the opposition
Ata Zhurt party were the most violent in the capital Bishkek
since those that deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010 in
the second revolt since 2005 in the mainly Muslim state.
Judge Adylbek Subankulov said the three parliamentarians
were guilty of plotting to seize power by force and sentenced
them to up to 18 months in a high-security prison.
"We only voiced the will of the people to return Kumtor to
our nation," Tashiyev, confident and defiant, said from a metal
cage in which the three MPs were held before the sentence was
Several hundred opposition supporters faced police with
truncheons outside, chanting: "Acquittal!" and "Freedom!"
"Freedom to the people's heroes!" read one of the posters
held by protesters who included many youths and women.
"The revolutions on March 24 (2005) and April 7 (2010) were
most directly linked to the issue of Kumtor - we wanted to
attract the attention of the state to this problem and put an
end to it," Zhaparov said before the judge.
Local political commentator Alexander Knyazev said the mild
sentences showed authorities' concern over the support the three
MPs enjoy in the less developed and ethnically mixed south,
where the grip of the central government remains tenuous.
President Almazbek Atambayev, whose country borders China
and hosts both U.S. and Russian military air bases, was booed by
hundreds of Ata Zhurt supporters when he visited the Jalalabad
region on Thursday.
"The authorities simply feared that this trial could be used
by the opposition to escalate protest actions," Knyazev said.
Under a Bakiyev-era contract drawn up in 2009, the Kyrgyz
state is a 33 percent shareholder in Centerra.
Kumtor, located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Tien
Shan mountains, is the biggest gold mine operated by a
Western-based company in the former Soviet Union.
After ice movement in the pit cut Kumtor's output in 2012,
Kyrgyzstan's gross domestic product also fell. The mine with
some 3,400 permanent staff and contractors made up 5.5 percent
of Kyrgyz GDP and 18.9 percent of industrial output in 2012.
Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev, whose coalition
government took power last September pledging to alleviate
poverty, has repeatedly said that Kumtor should not be
But he is now locked in talks with Centerra Gold's
management after parliament gave the government in February
until June 1 to renegotiate the current financial agreements or
rip them up if no compromise is found.
The government wants to levy heavier taxes on the
Toronto-listed company and has also sent it two environmental
damage claims worth a total of $457 million.
Centerra says such claims are exaggerated or without merit.