Protesters in Mongolia try to storm state palace

Thousands gathered to demand action against the economy and rising inflation amid a simmering corruption scandal.

Thousands of people have braved freezing temperatures in Mongolia’s capital to protest alleged corruption in the country’s coal industry and skyrocketing inflation. Some later tried to storm the government building.

Protesters, including many young people, gathered in Ulaanbaatar’s central Sukhbaatar Square in -21C (-6F) temperatures on Monday, demanding “justice” against corrupt officials and calling for the resignation of the country’s parliament.

“Help us, our country is collapsing,” the sign read. Some shepherds also traveled to the city to participate in the meetings.

Protesters have been frustrated by the country’s ailing economy, with inflation reaching 15.2 percent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and closed borders negatively affecting trade with neighboring China.

People are suffering “incredibly economically,” Jana Zilkova, country director of the aid group Caritas Czech Republic in Ulaanbaatar, told Al Jazeera.

Whistleblower alleges a group of lawmakers tied to the coal industry stole billions of dollars, adding to discontent.

“People are upset and angry about this case because they were promised that the country’s wealth would be shared with them,” Zilkova added.

Police tried to break up the demonstration at 9pm local time (1pm GMT), but according to local media, some protesters tried to break into the government building by knocking down barriers and smashing windows. The police intervened and most of the demonstrators had left the square a few hours later.

Last month, Mongolia’s anti-corruption authority announced it was investigating more than 30 officials — including the CEO of state-owned mining company Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi — for embezzlement.

The company controls the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi deposits, which contain 7.5 billion tons of coking coal – a vital ingredient in the steelmaking process and a major part of Mongolia’s state budget revenues. It has yet to respond to the allegations.

The lawmakers involved allegedly used their ownership of coal mines and companies that transport coal across the border into China to make illegal profits.

Mongolia sends 86 percent of its exports to China, with coal accounting for more than half of the total. A quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from mining.

Monday’s rally came a day after several hundred protesters gathered in the capital, according to the US embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

Protesters tried to march to Ikh Tenger, the official residence of the president and prime minister, “where they were stopped by a police barricade,” the embassy said.

Khursukh Ukhnaa was elected president last June, months after he was forced to resign as prime minister amid public outcry over the treatment of a COVID-19 patient and her newborn baby.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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