Riots, curfew follow Mongolian election results

/ Source: The Associated Press

Mongolia's president declared a four-day state of emergency in the country's capital beginning early Wednesday after angry protesters stormed the headquarters of the ruling political party.

Under the president's decree, no public gatherings are permitted in Ulan Bator. Police also will be allowed to use force in cracking down on protesters who had turned violent in demonstrations alleging fraud in last weekend's parliamentary election.

Despite volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, thousands of protesters refused to disperse. The crowd of mostly young people ransacked the offices of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, set the building on fire and threw rocks at riot police.

President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, a ruling party member, acknowledged the protesters' complaints over results of the election, which centered on how to share the country's mineral wealth, but appealed for calm.

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

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 this country of about 3 million people, spread across an area the size of Alaska.

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.

Dozens hurt
Police spokesman Sainbayar, who like some Mongolians goes by one name, 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.

By Tuesday night, protesters had begun smashing other buildings in the downtown area and some were looting television sets and other property.

Complaints originally centered on two districts in Ulan Bator that were awarded to the ruling party but 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 MPRP, won the poll.

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.

Police take shelter from a barrage of rocks during clashes in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, Tuesday July 1, 2008. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse angry protesters who mobbed the headquarters of the ruling political party Tuesday, alleging fraud in a weekend election that centered on how to share the country's mineral wealth. Gerry Shih / AP

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.

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

"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.