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In Mongolia, Thousands Protest Against Corruption and Inflation

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3D rendering of the flag of Mongolia on satin texture.

An AFP correspondent said that thousands of people gathered in the capital of Mongolia on Monday to protest alleged corruption in the nation’s coal industry and skyrocketing prices.

In minus 21 degrees Celsius (below six degrees Fahrenheit), protesters, many of them young people, gathered in Ulaanbaatar’s main Sukhbaatar Square to demand “justice” against corrupt officials and the dissolution of the nation’s parliament.

Two herders told AFP that they had come to the city to take part in the protests on Monday.

By 9 p.m. local time, police asked the protesters to disperse (1300 GMT).

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflation has risen to 15.2 percent, angering protesters who are fed up with the nation’s failing economy.

Whistleblowers’ allegations that members of the so-called “coal group” of MPs with ties to the sector had stolen billions of dollars’ worth of coal, however, have also fueled public fury.

Over 30 people, including the CEO of the state-owned coal mining company Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, were revealed to be under investigation for theft by Mongolia’s anti-corruption agency in mid-November.

The company is in charge of the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi resources, which contain 7.5 billion tons of coking coal and are a significant source of income for the Mongolian government. It has not yet responded to the accusations.

The accused MPs are accused of using their control of coal mines and shipping firms that transport the fossil fuel into China to their advantage in order to generate unauthorized profits.

In a press conference held at the parliament in November, MP Dorjhand Togmid stated that since 2013, Chinese customs had been recording 6.4 million tons of coal that Mongolian customs authorities have not been recording.

Whistleblowers have also claimed that dishonest customs agents registered coal-loaded trucks as regular passenger vehicles when they crossed the border into China rather than as importing goods.

In addition to modernizing its infrastructure in the hopes of selling even more to its southern neighbor, Mongolia sells 86 percent of its goods to China, with coal making up more than half of the total.

The US embassy in Ulaanbaatar reported that several hundred protesters gathered in the city the day before the march on Monday.

The protesters then tried to march on Ikh Tenger, the President and Prime Minister’s official residence, but “they were halted by a police cordon,” it was said.

Since converting to democracy, the landlocked nation, which is sandwiched between China and Russia, has struggled with political instability. In 1992, the country’s first constitution was adopted following decades of communist control.

After protests and public outcry over the treatment of a Covid-19 patient and her newborn child, the current president Khurelsukh Ukhnaa was compelled to resign as prime minister last year.

A few months later, he was swiftly elected head of state with about 70% of the vote.

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