Protesters from rival civic groups face off in Mongolia

Thousands of protesters from rival civic groups faced off in Mongolia 's capital on Tuesday as hundreds of police intervened to prevent minor scuffles from escalating. A gathering of 1,500 pro-government protesters dispersed after briefly confronting about 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the city's central square. Police intervened to halt any violence between the groups.

There were no signs anyone was injured or that any of the protesters were detained by police. Demonstrators have been camped in the central square for days to highlight their opposition to the government's handling of a Canadian firm's mining contract. They plan to take "extreme action" if their demands are not met by April 18, said S. Ganbaatar, an environmental activist with the Radical Reform Movement, one of several civic groups claiming to represent the poor and unemployed.

Those groups are demanding that the government resign if it cannot negotiate favorable terms from Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. over the Vancouver , British Columbia registered-company's concession to mine a huge copper deposit in the southern Gobi region. In particular, the protesters want Mongolia to retain 51 percent ownership of the mine. Their rivals, members of nationalist groups and student organizations, many of them wearing blue scarves symbolizing Mongolian patriotism, say they favor political stability.

"Do not push the country into anarchy!" they shouted as they marched toward the central square. "Let's sit down and talk," they said. Some 500 police and troops were guarding Government House, the main government headquarters and legislature which is adjacent to the central square.

Police were checking vehicles near the square to prevent protesters from bringing in more materials to build tents and traditional-style huts called ger, trying to limit the growth of a tent camp erected in the central square by the protesters. The protests are a challenge to a parliamentary government installed less than three months ago and to President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who has been criticized for not remedying corruption and poverty in the resource-rich but impoverished country.

Ivanhoe currently holds a long-term mining license for the site, known as Oyu Tolgoi, or "Turquoise Hill," and is negotiating the terms for development as part of a "stability agreement" with the government. There have been no accusations that Ivanhoe has acted improperly in the project. The company has defended itself, saying its investment helps boost the Mongolian economy, reports the AP.


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