Protest at the Government Palace leads to arrests and evacuations
A protest against amendments to the extraction law concerning river basins and forested areas resulted in the apprehension of 11 people and the confiscation of three guns, 36 bullets, nine grenades, and additional explosive devices, as well as the evacuation of five ministries and offices near the Government Palace
On the morning of September 16, delegates representing 11 non-governmental organizations protested outside the Government Palace against proposed amendments to the Extraction Law on River Basin and Forested Areas. The issue was under discussion in a parliamentary meeting. The reason for the protest was to prevent the approval of the amendment, as the 2009 law hasn’t been implemented or enforced in its current form. Many protected lands have been mined despite the law meant to preserve the integrity of Mongolia’s environment.
The protest started when delegates placed placards around the Government Palace which stated,“Around 40 percent of Mongolian territory should be protected by the state and 1,782 extraction permits should be terminated in accordance with the current Extraction Law on River Basin and Forested Areas.” which The protesters were there to stop the amendment, fearing that once the law is amended, permit termination and state protection might become impossible.
Thirty minutes into the protest, a gunshot was heard in the public park behind the Government Palace, and the security division of the palace immediately announced an emergency lockdown, prohibiting all individuals from entering or leaving the palace. Soon after, over 30 officials from the General Police Department (GPD), General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia (GIAM), and Ulaanbaatar City Emergency Management Agency (UCEMA) arrived at the palace and scoured the back park.
Below is more information about the protest, what actions were taken, and related issues.
10:40 a.m. Head of the Ongi Gol movement, Ts.Munkhbayar, accompanied by G.Boldbaatar and G.Chagnaadorj, allegedly fired a gun in the park after refusing to disperse. Security officials arrested the three protesters and searched them for weapons. The were reportedly carrying a 7 round Makarov and an AK-47 with additional bullets and one active grenade, while nine grenades, and five explosives commonly used in mining were in their bags. Shortly after their arrest, talk of a grenade being placed in the park came led emergency officials to scour the park with bomb-sniffing dogs.
A criminal case was filed and the Sukhbaatar District Police Department is now working on it.
12:15 p.m. An emergency lockdown the Government Palace ended after two hours and police arrested nine more protesters. The remaining protesters dispersed.
Staff of 5 ministries and the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia evacuated
2:00 p.m. Before the disturbance erupting at the protest site had been settled, the staff of the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Mining, and Ministry of Nature, Environment and Green Development evacuated their buildings under police protection as authorities responded to a report that bombs might have been placed in the ministry offices. At the same time, Central Tower, adjacent to the Government Palace, was also evacuated and placed under protection. Intelligence officers, police and emergency management searched the surrounding areas and buildings for explosives.
The evacuation started after 2 p.m. Vehicles parked outside the buildings were sent off the premises after being searched. The police recorded the state license plate numbers of all vehicles with unknown drivers, and checked the areas surrounding the buildings. The staff being evacuated said that the police let staff go after thoroughly checking their offices.
Explosive found in a garbage bin at Central Tower
3:30 p.m. At around 3 p.m., the road east of the square was closed while Central Tower was being inspected. The restricted zone also included the State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet and the park in front of the square. According to staff at Central Tower, the mass evacuation started after 2:30 p.m. During the evacuation, Deputy Chief of UCEMA, Ch.Namsraijav, said, “We found an explosive in a garbage bin at Central Tower, which was possibly intended for detonation. Thus, we placed the tower under protection.”
As an explosive was found in Central Tower, the Ulaanbaatar City Governor’s Office and other offices near the government palace were also scheduled to be checked for possible threats.
The police department has not made information public about who reported the explosive device at Central Tower.
Various media outlets are reporting that the delegates fired a shot on purpose, but the head of the Negdsen Mongol movement, Ch.Munkhbayar, one of the supporters of the opposition to the proposed amendment, said, “I arrived at the scene after the disturbance had ended. I understood that the protest participants united under Gal Undesten protested with guns just to express that they are ready to use weapons if the law is amended. The gunshot was not intentional. When government palace security officials tried to arrest them, they refused to be arrested and shot was fired unintentionally. It was an accident.”
Head of the Ongi Gol movement, Ts.Munkhbayar, who is currently under investigation at GIAM, said in his testimony, “We didn’t intend to hurt anyone. We just tried to issue a warning to government officials who do not give any thought to the interests of Mongolian people, but only their own.”
GPD and GIAM are filing separate official reports about the incident and no officials were injured during the arrests or investigation.
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