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Calm In Mongolia As Emergency Rule Ending

The destroyed headquarters of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party in Ulan Bator
ULAN BATOR -- Troops pulled back from the streets of the Mongolian capital and political leaders called for calm ahead of the lifting of emergency rule that was declared after rioting over alleged election fraud.

There was no sign of the tension that gripped the capital, Ulan Bator, just a few days ago, when stone-throwing mobs set the ruling party's headquarters on fire in a night of violence that killed five people and prompted the president to declare emergency rule for the first time in Mongolia's history.

"The political parties do not want renewed violence," said Y. Otgonbayar, chairman of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP). "The primary task at this moment is to keep people quiet and bring back normalcy."

Emergency rule is due to be lifted at 1530 GMT on July 5, exactly four days after it was declared.

Light Security

Workers were shovelling charcoal debris out of the MPRP's headquarters and authorities had erected a fence around the soot-covered building. But the security presence was light in Ulan Bator, with families enjoying the sunshine and tourists snapping photographs in the city's main square.

All parties held talks on July 5 to discuss the impasse over last week's election, which has delayed the formation of a government and dampened hopes for action to tackle double-digit inflation and pass mining agreements.

The opposition Democratic Party alleged fraud and pressed for recounting and a possible re-vote in some constituencies, after preliminary results showed the MPRP won a clear majority in the 76-seat parliament, or Great Hural.

Democratic Party leader Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj said smaller parties were also challenging the result in at least 19 constituencies. According to Mongolian law, three-quarters of the seats -- 57 -- must be filled for parliament to convene.

The election commission said final results would probably be made public on July 7 at the earliest.

Waiting For Word

Meanwhile, relatives are still waiting for news of those detained in the riots. Some 700 people were taken into custody following violence on July 1.

"I am worried and people here are saying different things about the situation, such as the detainees being beaten up," said one woman, who said her son had been missing for three days. "Some of them went up the hill and saw detainees made to squat down and walk in line ... They talked about such harsh conditions."

She was one of several anxious relatives waiting outside the Denjiin Myanga detention center, many of whom said they had received no word on the condition of their family members or whether and where they were being housed.

International observers say the vote in a country that shook off decades of Soviet influence in 1990 and embraced democratic reform was largely free and fair.

"If irregularities were undertaken or breaches of the law confirmed, there should be recounting first, and then if there is unfairness, a re-vote," said Otgonbayar. "We were fair in these elections. We are not afraid of re-voting or recounting whatsoever."

Fractious Coalition

The demand for a re-vote could spell more instability in the Central Asian nation after four years of fractious coalition rule that has undermined economic growth and held up mining deals seen as key to lifting the country out of poverty.

Beneath the country's vast steppes and deserts lie huge reserves of copper, coal, uranium, and other resources, but large-scale production has been held up by the lack of an agreement between the government and foreign investors.

One of the biggest projects at stake is Oyu Tolgoi, also known as Turquoise Hill, a copper and gold mine backed by Ivanhoe Mines of Canada and Rio Tinto.

"I fear that after the state of emergency is lifted there could be some rioting," said Burmaa, 19, a student.

But she added that the decree should be lifted. "It's not right to have this emergency rule any longer."