UPDATE 2-China's Inner Mongolia urges better safety after protests
* Major square in Hohhot sealed off
* Politburo vows to increase social management
* Search term for 'Inner Mongolia' blocked on certain websites (Adds small sympathy protest in Mongolia)
By Ben Blanchard
HOHHOT, China, May 30 (Reuters) - Police tightened security in the capital of China's Inner Mongolia region on Monday after nearly a week of protests and authorities said they would improve mining safety rules following an accident which triggered the unrest.
In a rare display of public anger, ethnic Mongolians took to the streets early last week in protest over the hit-and-run death of a herder, killed when struck by a coal truck in China's biggest coal producing region.
The government of the huge northern region, increasingly dominated by ethnic Han Chinese, told agencies to address safety and environmental concerns related to the mining industry, Xinhua news agency reported.
"All relevant departments, enterprises and local governments must promptly report and resolve injuries and accidents that occur in mining areas and transportation links, which have caused serious problems and reactions from the people," Xinhua said, citing a statement from Friday but without making a direct reference to the protests.
The government announced earlier the arrest of two Han Chinese for homicide over the coal truck incident, but that failed to quell the anger. [ID:nL3E7GT01U]
Inner Mongolia is China's biggest coal producing region and the protests come as severe power shortages loom ahead of the summer peak energy season.
But infrastructure is poor and the race by truck drivers, drawn by high margins, to transport coal to the country's east has been accompanied by a spate of accidents.
In an unusual sign of defiance, hundreds of ethnic Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have protested in other parts of the province in recent days.
Authorities last week sealed off parts of the region and dispatched paramilitary police and others in riot gear to patrol Xinhua Square in the capital, Hohhot, after calls for protests spread online.
On Monday, main gates at Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot were closed and small groups of paramilitary police carrying batons stood guard in the streets, though students entered through smaller side gates.
"The university is under lockdown today. It's to prevent any disturbances," said one student.
Xinhua Square remained cordoned off with paramilitary police posted every few metres and large groups of police in the square and surrounding streets. Residents in the city appeared to carry on as normal.
Police pulled two Reuters reporters out of a car by the square and told them not to conduct interviews.
"Today there is a special situation," said one. "You have to leave."
The heavy security appeared to be effective.[ID:nL3E7GS022]
"We haven't received any information about any protests there," said Enghebatu Togochog of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, though he added difficult communications made it hard to get up-to-date information.
"Security is exceptionally tight. The authorities appear to be sending text messages to people warning them not to leave their homes."
Uprisings across the Arab world have made Chinese authorities jittery about any sign of instability.
In a meeting on Monday that was chaired by Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Politburo, the nation's top ruling body, said "elements that can cause disharmony" should be reduced by "the largest degree".
"As the situation changes, our country's concept of social management, institutional mechanisms, laws and policies ... are still unsuitable in many places," Xinhua reported the Politburo as saying. "Resolving the problems in social management is urgent and requires long-term effort."
Searches for the words "Inner Mongolia" on China's most popular microblogging site, Weibo, appeared to have been blocked on Monday, returning the message: "According to relevant laws, the search query cannot be displayed".
Resentment of ethnic majority Han Chinese by ethnic Mongolians goes back decades.
Inner Mongolia was the first autonomous region set up by the Communist Party and was meant to serve as a model for Tibet and Xinjiang in offering a high degree of self-government. [ID:nL3E7GS00Z]
But a flood of migration by Han Chinese in the years following the 1949 revolution has rapidly diluted the Mongolian population.
Ethnic Mongolian herders have complained that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification, and that the government has tried to force them to settle in permanent houses.
In Ulan Bator, capital of the independent country of Mongolia, about 50 protesters gathered in support of their ethnic cousins in China. Some held banners calling for an end to "oppression" and justice for the herder killed by the truck.
Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said from Hong Kong rising tension had the Party worried that instability could spread to other ethnic groups.
"The situation points to the wholesale failure of the Party's policies toward ethnic minorities -- that they are alienating and disenfranchising each to the point that they are willing to protest even when they know the consequences can be severe," Bequelin said.
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing and Jargal Byambasuren in Ulan Bator, writing by Michael Martina, editing by Jonathan Thatcher)
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