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Postelection clashes kill 5; Mongolia imposes state of emergency

July 03, 2008|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer
  • Thousands of people stage a violent protest against what they claimed were rigged elections in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Thousands of people stage a violent protest against what they claimed were… (Michael Kohn / AFP/Getty…)

BEIJING — The capital of Mongolia remained under a state of emergency Wednesday after five people were killed in postelection violence amid allegations of voter fraud.

The crisis erupted late Tuesday when several thousand protesters associated with the opposition Democratic Party clashed with police in Ulan Bator and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, according to news reports and witnesses.

Preliminary results from the weekend elections suggested the ruling party won 46 of the parliament's 76 seats and the opposition garnered 27, with three still undecided. The results have not been certified. Parliamentary elections have been held every four years since the country became a democracy in 1992.

Late Tuesday, President Nambaryn Enkhbayar declared a four-day state of emergency, with protests banned.

"Some soldiers have been diverting traffic," said David Lawrence, operations officer with the International Finance Corp., an arm of the World Bank, which has suspended business until Monday. "But it seems pretty quiet now."

Lawrence and other witnesses in Ulan Bator were interviewed by telephone.

Mongolia's justice minister said about 220 civilians and 108 service members were injured in the clashes. About 700 protesters were detained. Montsame, the national news agency, reported five deaths from Tuesday's violence.

Opposition leaders said they did not accept the projected election results even as they denounced the violence.

"From the Sea of Japan to the eastern border of Europe, we are the only functioning democracy, and we have a duty to save it," Democratic Party leader Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj told Reuters news agency.

But the Asia Foundation, part of a network of more than 40 election monitoring teams, said its representatives visited 196 polling sites around the nation and saw no evidence of voter intimidation or other irregularities.

"We can only speak about the things we observed, and something might have happened before or after we were there," said Bill Infante, an Asia Foundation representative. "But none of our teams reported any malfeasance."

However, one Mongolian who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job said he had heard that special technology allowed the ruling party to inflate its vote counts.

This was countered by others who said the opposition was simply being a sore loser.

"These allegations were just wrong -- there were no facts and none were put on the table," said J. Peter Morrow, chief executive of Khan Bank, with 475 branches nationwide. "A lot of Mongolians believe the demonstrators were paid, and it got out of control."

Voters were concerned about inflation, jobs and corruption. The country has suffered 26% year-on-year price increases given that most of its oil, meat and cereals are imported.

The U.S. Embassy, which contributed 23 election monitors, expressed concern. "We call on all political parties to work together in the best interests of the people of Mongolia," it said in a statement.

Foreign business executives said they welcomed the fact that one side, no matter which it was, won a clear majority after years of political deadlock, fueling hope that investment projects could be approved.

Direct foreign investment in Mongolia rose to $500 million last year, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Mining interests say approval of the long-delayed Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project in the Gobi region would boost the economy by 33%.

"I think the police were a bit unprepared," Morrow said. "There hasn't been violence like this in Mongolia maybe since Genghis Khan. . . . I think it will pass relatively quickly."

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

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