The unrest was triggered by an alleged corruption scheme that involves supplying stolen coal to China
Mass riots hit Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar on Monday, when protesters broke into the government palace and attacked law enforcement officials. Protests have been going on in the city for three days now, as the authorities investigate an alleged massive theft of exported coal, but they hadn't turned violent until now.
Footage circulating online shows scores of people demonstrating in front of the government palace in central Ulaanbaatar, demanding transparency in the coal scandal investigation and publicly naming the suspects. The protesters were seen carrying placards reading "Don't steal our future" and "Let's live a fair and beautiful life in Mongolia."
A Christmas tree installed in front of the building was reportedly set on fire during the riots, unverified imagery available online shows. The protesters briefly breached the building itself, accessing it through the main entrance, but ran into a police barricade once inside.
Some of the protesters were filmed fighting with law enforcement officials inside the building, and a number of them were briefly detained following the skirmish, local media outlets reported. At least six police officers and four protesters have reportedly been injured in the clashes.
The city's authorities have allegedly issued an order to disperse the crowds by force, and the country's parliament has convened for an extraordinary session to evaluate the situation. That being said, the country's government has also created a workgroup to address the protesters' demands, urging malcontent citizens to engage in dialogue instead of resorting to violence.
"Currently, some 15 officials are under investigation. Representatives of the government, ministries and departments are being investigated," Amarbayasgalan Dashzegve, the secretary general of the ruling Mongolian People's Party and the head of the workgroup, said.
Ulaanbaatar police have suggested that the former managers of Mongolia's state-run coal export company might have been behind the unrest, seeking to steer it into violence through social media.
"The former management of Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, which is under investigation for the theft of coal, took advantage of demonstrations and resorted to social networks to involve their employees and citizens in gatherings, creating public chaos," the police claimed.
According to media reports, some 6.5 million tons of coal were smuggled out of the country under the alleged corruption scheme, with a vast portion of that heading to neighboring China while bypassing customs. The stolen coal is estimated to be worth some $1.8 billion.