Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Protest Turns Into a Riot

It has been a tense evening in Ulaanbaatar. A protest that began around 1:30pm this afternoon in front of the MPRP (ruling party) party headquarters descended into chaos by early evening. Currently it is 11:54pm and the MPRP building is almost completely engulfed in flames and smoke, and according to the live news feed of the scene the police have quit the area. It appears from the images on television that at most about 200 people are ransacking the building and otherwise participating in a unfettered demonstration of violence and vandalism. All the activity this evening has been focused on the MPRP Building.

What I have seen is a bit too amazing to believe. The protesters and police had pitched confrontations which included rubber bullets fired from shotguns and automatic rifles, tear gas, and batons. These had only temporary effects on the situation, and the protesters were able on several occasions to regroup and recharge the police, causing them to retreat to defensive positions. I actually saw just as many police officers throwing stones at the protesters as the protesters themselves due to the fact that the vast majority appeared under equipped. The saddest example of this was the fire hoses the police were using to disperse the crowd which had the water pressure of lawn sprinklers.

Eagle Broadcasting Company provided a live feed for the entire event from the roof of the Democratic Party headquarters which was just West of the scene. Although every channel showed at least some footage of what was going on. At one point the area appeared to have up to several thousand people, but only about 100 or less were actually committing acts of violence and vandalism.

The Director of the Communications Center for the General Police Agency reported about an hour ago that approximately 45 people had been injured and a couple dozen police officers. So far, thankfully, there have been no reported deaths.

President Enkhbayar called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which included other major party leaders who participated in the elections, to discuss the situation. It was broadcast on television, and it did not appear to produce a resolution but rather served as a venue to air further grievances about the fairness of the election. The government looked hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation.

In addition to the MPRP building several cars in the parking lot were also set ablaze. At one point the protesters commandeered a tractor and drove it at the police, causing them to once again retreat. Later in the evening the tractor shovel was used to hold a large mass of burning material, and the protesters drove it around the parking lot while dancing on the tractor frame and body. Complete chaos could describe the scene within the protesters, yet hundreds, maybe thousands, more bystanders looked on like they were watching a theatrical performance. It looked like contained, and one might say almost restrained chaos. People were not dragged about and beaten. The vandalism appeared to not spread to other buildings near by.

The news reported that the majority of people that were arrested before the police quit the area were intoxicated. I heard other information that the violence and vandalism was kicked off by bystanders egging drunk protesters on to escalate the situation. From the images on the live feed, it appeared that many were drunk based on their behavior and body movements. There were numerous signs of looting from the businesses that rent space on the first floor of the MPRP building, and I even saw a situation in which young hoodlums told a television cameraman to shut off his camera while they looted an office.

It appears that everything is contained (voluntarily on the part of the vandals) around the MPRP building with no wider movement through the city. It remains to be seen what this city is going to be like in the morning. The MPRP building is completely destroyed, so it certainly will not be the same city, or country for that matter.


Anonymous said...

One police officer dead and hundreds of officers were injured. Police officers did not used any force.

Clyde Bentley said...

I'm rather astounded. I felt the enthusiasm for the election, but not the anger.

What I did pick up was a generational split: Old for the MPRP and young for the Democrats. That has led to riots before -- 1968 in Chicago comes to mind.

Please keep up the reports and throw in some photos if you can.