Image: Mongolian unrest
Hao Lifeng  /  Xinhua via AP
Mongolian security forces stand guard Wednesday in front of the headquarters of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party in Ulan Bator after it was burned a day earlier.
updated 7/3/2008 3:59:17 PM ET 2008-07-03T19:59:17

Military vehicles withdrew from streets as life in Mongolia's capital largely returned to normal Thursday just days after rioting sparked by an electoral dispute left five people dead.

As smoke hung in the air over charred buildings, authorities were questioning more than 700 people detained in the violence — the worst since the landlocked Asian nation shook off communism 18 years ago.

"The situation has stabilized dramatically," Justice Minister Munk-Orgil said at a briefing Thursday night.

Soldiers and riot police continued to patrol the city center to enforce a four-day state of emergency that ends midnight Friday. The state of emergency also suspended all channels except the state broadcaster and banned alcohol sales.

Rioting followed an announcement Tuesday that the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party — former Communists who governed the country when it was a Soviet satellite — had retained its parliamentary majority in Sunday's election.

Buildings torched
Thousands of protesters set fire to the MPRP's headquarters. The mob, mainly composed of young men, also attacked the General Election Commission, ransacked and torched a nearby cultural center and looted a duty-free liquor store.

At the cultural center, the smell of burned wood and plastic was still heavy in the air. Every office in the building, which housed an art gallery, concert hall and numerous offices, had been looted.

"They stole everything, all the instruments, even the performers' costumes. The only thing left is the piano," said Delgensaikhan Tuvshinsaikhan, the leader of a traditional folk music group that was housed in the building.

Police investigations continued amid speculation about who was behind the violence. Some in the opposition accused the government of instigating and abetting the chaos to allow it to justify suppressing its political opponents.

The MPRP has long been dogged by allegations of corruption and official misconduct and is unpopular in the capital.

Calling the riot a "horrendous act of barbarism and vandalism," Munk-Orgil said the theory of a government conspiracy was the "wildest allegation I've ever heard in my life."

Observers saw no fraud
Opposition parties have alleged fraud in the election, although the MPRP was leading in surveys before the election and independent electoral observers have said they saw no signs of systematic fraud.

The national election commission has until July 10 to announce final results.

Munk-Orgil said President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, a ruling party member, had asked the heads of all parties represented in the parliament for restraint and to renounce violence to allow the electoral commission to carry out its duties.

Munk-Orgil said authorities will review police behavior and tactics. Officers used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to beat back rioters wielding bricks and iron rods. It wasn't clear how the five victims died.

Another 220 people were injured, including a Japanese reporter, Mongolia's national news agency Montsame has reported.

Mongolia is struggling to modernize its nomadic, agriculture-based economy, and the election largely focused on how to use the country's mineral wealth, including copper, gold and coal.

The government says per capita income is $1,500 a year in the country of about 3 million people spread across an area about three times the size of Spain.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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