Wed, Mar 30, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Mass rallies against graft hit Mongolia

DEJA VU Inspired by the events in Kyrgyzstan, Mongolian activists called for new elections and blamed corruption for the nation's economic woes


Activists who recently protested outside Mongolia's parliament accusing lawmakers of corruption are demanding the government call new elections.

Some of the protesters said they were inspired by events in nearby Kyrgyzstan, where anti-government demonstrators forced the former Soviet republic's president from power.

Mongolian Prime Minister Tsakhilganiin Elbegdorj appealed for calm following the protests Friday, when about 5,000 people pushed past police to demonstrate on Sukhbatar Square outside parliament.

The protesters, who included teachers, shopkeepers, unemployed workers and homeless people, accused the parliament speaker of embezzlement and say graft is to blame for chronic poverty in the country.

"It's impossible to dissolve parliament, but you can work with us," Elbegdorj told protest leaders at a meeting on Monday, parts of which were shown on television.

Yesterday, one protest leader said another demonstration was planned for April 7, the day parliament is due to open its spring session.

"We will gather more people and we will hold more street demonstrations," said J. Batzandan, a 30-year-old lawyer and university lecturer.

This former Soviet satellite nation of 2.5 million people lodged between China and Russia introduced multiparty democracy in 1990 following street demonstrations.

Former Soviet-era leaders were voted out in the mid-1990s but then returned to power.

The capital has been the scene of frequent protests over poverty and complaints about land reform. In 2002, hundreds of farmers drove their tractors onto Sukhbatar Square to protest a plan to sell state-owned land they said would benefit friends of the ruling party.

On Friday, protesters waved flags and wore scarves in the movement's signature color of yellow.

"Let's congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers for their revolutionary spirit," the protesters chanted. "Let's free Mongolia of corruption."

The protest began in Liberty Square, where demonstrators had permission for a rally. They marched about 2km to Sukhbatar Square as police tried to stop them.

Police and protesters scuffled but no serious injuries were reported.

Critics accuse parliament speaker Nambariin Enkhbayar and other officials of embezzling 3.5 billion tugruk (US$3 million) during parliamentary elections last year that were marred by accusations from both sides of vote-buying and other abuses.

Police say they found no grounds to charge Enkhbayar or the other officials.

Enkhbayar, a former prime minister, is a member of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, which led the country under communism and is now part of a coalition government.

"It's time to get rid of these corrupt officials," said Tsogoo, a textile merchant who like many Mongolians uses one name. "That's why Mongolia is impoverished."

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