Beijing: Playing down the mass protests in inner Mongolia sparked by the killing of an ethnic Mongol while objecting to a coal mine run by Chinese Hans the Chinese official media said it is more of a social conflict than an ethnic clash.

The scale of mass protests during the past few days in relatively peaceful inner Mongolia, compared to restive Muslim Uygur majority Xinjiang and Tibet, which witnessed periodic ethnic unrests surprised Chinese officials.

Reports from the region said that spurred by calls on microblogs in the internet, the entire province came to standstill with ethnic Mongols resorting to mass protests in schools, colleges and local institutions.

The official media here now acknowledged that the mass protests were sparked off by clash between local Mongolian residents and Han workers manning a coal mine not as a traffic  accident projected earlier.

"Residents living near a mine in Abag Banner complained about noise, dust and water pollution from the coal mine, ultimately resulting in a clash between the residents and the miners on May 15", state run news agency reported.

About 14 people were injured in the conflict, which was defused by local police.

Later that day, some local residents drove to the coal mine, smashed the mine office's windows and fought with the miners again.

During the conflict, forklift driver Sun Shuning, drove his vehicle into Yan Wenlong 22-year-old ethnic Mongol.

Yan sustained serious head injuries and died at the scene, according to local police.

Sun who allegedly crushed a man to death with his forklift in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is being tried for murder, said reports.

Terming the Mongol protests more of a social conflict than ethnic, the sate run 'Global Times' in its editorial said "in some media reports, the incident has been depicted as a Mongolian protest against Han's dominance, similar to the Xinjiang riots in 2009 and Tibet unrest in 2008".

"The Mongolian protests, over a herd being run over by a Han truck driver, are not a politically driven demonstration.

Some of their requests are reasonable, and should be responded to by the local government", it said.

Inner Mongolia has been a model area where different ethnic group co-habit in harmony, but like many other ethnic areas, it faces the difficulties of balancing a growing economy and preserving minority culture and lifestyle.

The best way can only be found by coming to a consensus, it said.

Several Mongols allege that their region is being over exploited specially by coal miners from mainland to cash in on the energy demand.

"Anger of local Mongolians toward the Han driver is understandable. The anger is also partly a result of their anxiety over a wave of industrialisation, and how the mining industry might affect their lives.

We believe the majority of Chinese sympathize with their reasonable requests", the editorial said.

"It is worth noticing the protests saw no violence between different ethnic groups" as depicted by a US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre that tried to advocate the interests of local Mongolians, it said.

The editorial also justified the Chinese official media virtually ignoring it and said, "following the prevailing thinking of maintaining order and stability, the domestic media has had little coverage over the protest". But in the Internet age, such information can hardly be concealed.

Soon after the protests broke out, the information, many of which was first reported by overseas media, has spread over the Internet", it said.

"Social conflicts are on the rise in China and ethnic minority areas are no exception. But the incidents there should not be exaggerated or over-interpreted. The key is to understand the reason behind, face it, and find the solution", it said.


(Agencies)