Coal Drivers Go on Trial in Death of Mongolian Herder

Inner Mongolia protest

Chinese state media say two Chinese coal miners have gone on trial for murder in Inner Mongolia in a case that prompted large-scale protests in the region.

The official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday about 160 people witnessed the trial, including relatives of both the accused and the victim.

The agency said prosecutors said the victim, a Mongolian herder named Mergen, and about 20 other herders tried to block a coal truck driven by Li Lindong on May 10 to protest noise and dust in their village. The prosecutors said the truck struck Mergen and dragged him for about 145 meters to his death.

The agency said murder charges are also being pressed against Lu Xiangdong, who was with Li in the truck. Two other men, both ethnic Chinese, are accused of blocking police from chasing the truck and are being tried on lesser charges.

The incident sparked protests that were described as the largest in 20 years in the region, which has long been spared from the kind of ethnic tensions experienced in Tibet and Xinjiang, which are also home to non-Chinese ethnic groups.

Chinese media have been largely silent about the protests. But Xinhua said Wednesday that thousands of students took to the streets last week in the city of Xilinhot, capital of the Xilingol region.

The agency also said mining officials in the autonomous region have begun a month-long overhaul of the area's mines, calling for closer attention to safety and the welfare of local residents.

Xinhua quoted Mergen's wife, Uzhina, saying she is satisfied with the trial so far but that she hopes the court will hand down "severe punishments" for the culprits.

Many Mongolians use only one name.