Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar has declared a state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew in the country’s capital, Ulan Bator, after deadly riots that followed weekend parliamentary elections.
For years, Mongolia has been touted as a post-Communist transition success, a calm island of democracy sandwiched between Russia and China.
But Ulan Bator was anything but calm on July 1, as demonstrators rampaged through the city’s main square, ransacking and later setting fire to the headquarters of the ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP).
Mineral Deposits Found
At stake were weekend parliamentary elections. The poll is seen as especially important, with the main issue being how to handle the rights to recently discovered mineral deposits, including copper, gold, and coal.
Pre-election polls showed the opposition Democratic Party -- which wants private companies to be allowed majority stakes in mining operations -- and the ruling party -- which wants to retain state control in mineral deposits -- in a virtual tie.
But official results showed a solid victory for the MPRP. The opposition called foul, accusing the government of falsifying results, leading to an outpouring of outrage on the streets of Ulan Bator.
Purevdorj Batmunkh, a 40-year-old man who came to join the demonstrations last night, spoke to Reuters about his anger.
"Look at all these people, the whole atmosphere," he said. "We've never had such an election. In this year's election, the fraud was just too much."
Five People Killed
The authorities lost little time in clamping down, arresting 20 people and declaring a four-day state of emergency.
The order bans public gatherings, allows the use of force against demonstrators, and restricts independent media broadcasts.
The Justice Ministry says at least five people were killed and some 200 people injured in the rioting.
An uneasy calm has now returned the to streets.
Bertrand Desmoulins, the head UNICEF representative in Mongolia, spoke to RFE/RL by telephone from Ulan Bator.
"Our office is just behind the government house, which is on Sukhbaatar Square," Desmoulins said. "All of this is controlled by the army now, so it's kind of quiet. They are blocking the traffic, like a block, prior to coming into the neighborhood of the central downtown, where the government house is and where the MPRP headquarters building is also located. So, today, it's very calm and very quiet in downtown."
The authorities have appealed to the opposition to restrain their supporters, and a nighttime curfew remains in effect.
It’s anyone guess what will happen next, but it’s clear Mongolia’s nascent democracy has entered a turbulent phase.