State of emergency declared in Mongolia

Other News Materials 2 July 2008 11:05 (UTC +04:00)

Mongolia's president declared a four-day state of emergency in the capital early Wednesday after angry protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of the ruling political party alleging fraud in last weekend's parliamentary election, reported CNN.

President Nambaryn Enkhbayar's decree allows police to use force in dealing with thousands of rock-throwing protesters who mobbed the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party headquarters Tuesday and set it on fire. The crowd had not dispersed by Tuesday night, despite repeated volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.

"Police will use necessary force to crack down on criminals who are looting private and government property," said Munkhorgil, the minister of justice and home affairs, who like some Mongolians goes by one name. Ulaanbaatar was also placed under a 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, he said.

The crowd thinned slightly after the emergency declaration in the early hours of Wednesday, though some protesters had begun looting paintings from an art gallery and televisions from government offices. Others vandalized cars parked on downtown streets.

Enkhbayar, a ruling party member, acknowledged the protesters' complaints over results of the election but appealed for calm.

"Let's sit down and solve the election fraud," he said on national TV.

Mongolians went to the polls Sunday after a campaign focused on how to share the country's mineral wealth.

Fraud originally centered on two districts in Ulan Bator that were awarded to the ruling party but were contested by two popular members of the Civic Movement party. Following that, protesters called the entire election into question, with opposition Democrats saying that their party, not the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), won the poll.

Some protesters pushed into the General Election Commission offices to demand that officials resign over alleged voting irregularities and fraud. The commission defended the vote, but at least one party called for a re-count in some districts of Ulaanbaatar.

"The Mongolian people voted for democracy and not for the MPRP, who are ex-communists," said Magnai Otgonjargal, vice chairman of the Civic Movement party.

According to preliminary results, the MPRP -- which also governed the country when it was a Soviet satellite -- won 46 seats in Sunday's vote. That would give the party far more than half of the 76 seats in parliament, called the State Great Khural.

The other major party, the Mongolian Democratic Party, took 26 seats. An independent won one seat and a minor party another. Results in two other seats were not yet clear. The General Election Commission has until July 10 to announce the final results.

Tuesday's clashes far surpass the usual minor violence that has often accompanied elections in the 18 years since Mongolia cast off communist rule for democracy. Police seemed unprepared to deal with the crowd, who trampled one police officer, apparently leaving him badly injured.

Police spokesman Sainbayar said 26 police officers were hospitalized and one had been blinded. Another 30 or 40 people were also taken to hospitals with various injuries, he said. An unidentified Japanese journalist was seriously injured with a head wound.

Prime Minister Bayar Sanjaa blamed Elbegdorj, head of the Democratic party, for inciting the violence.

"Elbegdorj made the very irresponsible statement of denouncing election results while official results were not yet announced," he said.

Elbegdorj walked out of a national security meeting attended by top leaders and representatives of various political parties late Tuesday after demanding an apology from the prime minister. The Democrat called for a re-vote and accused the MPRP of organizing election fraud.

Mongolia, a mostly poor country sandwiched between China and Russia, is struggling to modernize its nomadic, agriculture-based economy. The government says per capita income is just $1,500 a year in the country of about 3 million people spread across an area the size of the U.S. state of Alaska (three times the size of Spain).

The two main political parties focused their campaigns on how to tap recently discovered huge mineral deposits -- including copper, gold and coal -- but disagreed over whether the government or private sector should hold a majority stake.

The difference meant the outgoing parliament was unable to pass an amendment to the Minerals Law, which kept the government from concluding investment agreements with international mining giants to develop mineral deposits in the Gobi Desert.

With a large majority, the MPRP may now be able to have parliament pass the new law.

The current Minerals Law gives the government the right to take up to a 50 percent interest in an important mineral deposit if state funds were used to discover it.

The proposed change would give Mongolia a minimum 51 percent stake. But while the MPRP wants the government to hold that stake, the Mongolian Democratic Party says private Mongolian companies should be able to hold it.