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Central Asia: Thousands Attend Funeral For Mongolia's Slain Democratic Leader

By Dosan Baimolda

Prague, 8 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands attended a funeral in Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, yesterday for 36-year-old Sanjaasurengiin Zorig.

Two attackers armed with a knife and ax killed Zorig in his home last Friday (October 2). They haven't been apprehended and a massive investigation continues.

Mongolians and others in Central Asia remember Zorig, a member of parliament, as a leading figure of the country's young democracy movement. RFE/RL's correspondent in Mongolia reports that, in addition to crowds at the funeral, thousands more lined the route of the funeral procession.

Flags across the country are flying at half-staff. The government announced an unspecified period of national mourning. Daily candlelight vigils continue in downtown Ulan Bator. There are plans to erect a statue of Zorig in the capital.

Zorig studied at Moscow State University and then became a professor of social sciences at the State University of Mongolia. He was among those who led pro-democracy protests in 1990. The movement eventually uprooted the Communist government which had been in power for 70 years.

Zorig became a deputy in the Great Hural, Mongolia's parliament. He continued to be a leader among pro-democracy figures.

At the time of his death, he was serving as acting-Minister for Infrastructure and Telecommunications. When a banking scandal brought down the government in July, Zorig stayed in his post. He met with Mongolian President Nasagiin Bagabandi last week, and there were reports Zorig would be named prime minister.

Our correspondent says these reports set off speculation that Zorig's slaying had political motives. The government has offered a reward equivalent to $10,000 for information leading to the capture of those responsible for the attack.

Government officials have been vociferous in condemning the crime and offering condolences to the family and friends of Zorig. Our correspondent reports that many in government and in the crowds of mourners express hope that his death will inspire parties and movements within Mongolia to improve future cooperation.

The speaker of parliament, Renchinsambugin Gonchigdorj, paid tribute to Zorig with these words: "The same way the words Mongolia and Genghis Khan belong together, so do Mongolia, democracy and Zorig belong together in modern times."