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* MPs await trial, face up to 20 years in jail * Defence lawyer slams charges as politically motivated * Passions simmer in Kyrgyzstan's restive south * Attacks on Canadian firm may scare foreign investors By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A court in Kyrgyzstan on Fridaycharged three opposition nationalist members of parliament withattempting to stage a coup after they led a crowd which tried tostorm government headquarters in a protest over a Canadian-ownedgold mine.
The charges followed a protest on Wednesday during whichdemonstrators demanded that the state should nationalise theKumtor gold mine, Kyrgyzstan's flagship venture with Canada'sCenterra Gold Inc . The mine accounted for 12 percent ofKyrgyz GDP and over a half of all its exports in 2011.
Calls to nationalise Kumtor, the largest gold mine operatedin Central Asia by a Western-based concern, risk scaring offpotential investors needed to revive a shrinking economy.
The clashes between police and supporters of the oppositionAta Zhurt party in the former Soviet republic were the mostviolent in Bishkek, the capital, since the April 2010 revoltthat ousted then-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The three parliamentarians held responsible - KamchibekTashiyev, Sadyr Zhaparov and Talant Mamytov - were detained bysecurity police on Thursday. If found guilty, their lawyers saidthey could face between 12 and 20 years in jail.
"The court ordered that all three be put into custody fortwo months," Ikramidin Aitkulov, Tashiyev's lawyer, told Reutersoutside the district court in the centre of the Kyrgyz capital."Then a trial will be held."
He said he believed the charges against his client werepolitically motivated. "Everything is being done to eliminate apolitical rival," he said. "Tashiyev's only task at that rallywas to draw public attention to the problem of Kumtor."
Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev, who wasappointed last month, visited the Kumtor gold mine on Monday andpromised the venture would not be nationalised.
THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE
The assault on Kyrgyzstan's "White House", which houses thegovernment and the parliament, rekindled north-south tension inthe mainly Muslim Central Asian nation of 5.5 million, whichborders China and hosts Russian and U.S. military air bases.
Ata Zhurt and its allies enjoy strong support in the poorer,ethnically mixed south where the grip of the central governmentremains tenuous.
On Friday, about 1,000 Ata Zhurt supporters protested for asecond day in the main square of the southern city of Jalalabad,demanding the release of the three parliamentarians.
Dozens of protesters later set up traditional Kyrgyz "yurt"felt tents near the adjacent regional administration building tohold a round-the-clock protest.
In the evening, a group of women and male youths blocked themain motorway linking the country's north and south.
There were no reports of violence.
Since 2005, two presidents of Kyrgyzstan have been toppledafter attacks on the same government building in Bishkek. Thecity of about one million residents was quiet on Friday evening.
Only about 50 Ata Zhurt supporters chanted "Freedom!" nearthe court. The small group was dwarfed by hundreds of policemenwho cordoned off approaches to the building. More policemen withshields and truncheons took up positions in nearby side streets.
Tashiyev's lawyer Aitkulov called on Ata Zhurt supporters toabstain from violent actions.
Wednesday's rally began as a peaceful protest in favour ofnationalising Kumtor. Under a Bakiyev-era contract drawn up in2009 the Kyrgyz state is a 33 percent shareholder in Centerra.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
Keywords: KYRGYZSTAN CLASHES/