Ulan Bator: protests continue over coal scandal
90% of the thousands of protesters are high school students. Two investigations into the supply of ore to China opened. 15 officials under investigation. Official media are silent about the demonstrations and social networks are blocked. Suspicions that an internal struggle within the ruling party may be behind the riots.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - In Mongolia's capital Ulan Bator, the street protests that have been bringing masses of people to the palaces of power for several days now have not subsided. They are braving the harsh winter temperatures to demand the indictment of public officials implicated in corruption and embezzlement linked to coal supplies.
Ninety per cent of the thousands of protesters are students from the country's high schools, as Justice Ministry Secretary P. Sajnzorig confirmed, but also junior high school students. The official media are silent about the protests, and social networks are blocked.
The protesters tried to storm the government building, blocking the city's central streets and burning a thatched fir tree, then spontaneously walked away, even picking up rubbish.
One MP, Togmidyn Doržkhand, told a press conference that the country had exported more than 6.4 million tonnes of coal to China since 2013 without being registered at Mongolian customs. They travelled in trucks with documents of ordinary cars with passengers.
After the protests, the authorities granted the creation of a working group for dialogue with the demonstrators. As the head of the government secretariat Dašzegviyna Amarbajasgalana, a member of the Mongolian People's Party, said, 'currently 15 officials are under investigation; another internal investigation is underway on representatives of the ministries and bodies concerned'. Parliament is in continuous session to assess the situation and the allegations, which are also being reiterated by some MPs.
These are not the first mass protests in Mongolia in recent times: already in January 2021, the then prime minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa had resigned, following the scandal of a woman giving birth who was transported from the midwife clinic to a Covid-19 sick clinic without shoes and clothes against the cold. Only a few months later, however, the resigning premier was elected president.
Various conspiracy theories are spreading on Twitter, in which it is claimed that Ukhnaa is the real organiser of the protests, on the eve of the congress of the People's Party, of which he is the general secretary, in order to increase the pressure on the government of Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene, chairman of the Central Committee of the political formation.
Behind the protests, therefore, there would be an internal power struggle within the party heir to the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, the socialist party that remained in power from 1921 to 1996, and even in the subsequent phase of democratic transformations, with few interruptions.