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Monday, February 6, 2017

[Mongolia bonds are 'winning'; FX reserves keep steady; IMF deal expected by '15th'; and income tax lowered for certain SMEs]

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Monday, February 6, 2017

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Jump to: Int'l Market - Local Market - Economy - Politics & Legal - Business - Ulaanbaatar - Diplomacy - Health & Education - Culture & Society - Nature & Environment - Sports - Art & Entertainment - Travel

Headlines in Italic are ones modified by Cover Mongolia from original

 

HEADLINES

Int'l Market

·         Crisis-Hit Mongolia Has an Unlikely Investment Winner

·         Don't Play With Mongolian Fire

·         HSBC Boosts Stake in Turquoise Hill Resources

·         Wolf Petroleum Director Jack James Buys 5,000 Shares

Local Market

·         Hermes Centre JSC Announces ₮320 Million Dividend

Economy

·         MNT falls for 3 days after 9 days of gains

·         BoM sells US$16.2m at ₮2,460, declines CNY bid, MNT, USD swap offers

·         BoM issues ₮127 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding +1.1% to ₮452.55 billion

·         FX Reserves Fall 0.58% in December to $1.3 Billion, Down 2.03% from 2015

·         BoM buys 707.27 kgs of gold in January, 19.6% more than 2016

·         BoM: Deflation risk to continue till Q3 of 2017

·         Mongolian taxpayers receive their first ever VAT refunds

·         Mongolia hopes to receive IMF bailout this month

·         MoF reports on arrival of IMF representatives

·         Goodbye volatility, hello steady growth, says Mongolia's finance chief

·         China's Belt and Road initiative provides fresh opportunity for Mongolia's crisis

·         Battered Mongolia faces make-or-break moment

Politics & Legal

·         Mongolian citizens offer cash, jewellery, horses to pay off gov't debt

·         MP J. Batzandan donates 3-month salary to state budget

·         PM states that charitable contributions will not be used for bond repayment

·         ETT to settle Chalco debt by April

·         ETT needs to go public for citizens to realize their shares

·         Mongolia to increase stake in World Bank's IBRD

·         Auditor General to audit government's first half 2016 books

·         Breach of law and regulations to be governed by one general law

·         Mongolia seeks to shorten suspect holding period from 3 days to 1

·         Parliament moves air navigation system to unprivatizable list

·         Parliament approves revised law on disaster protection

·         Cabinet moves $79 million IDA loan to standing committees

·         Projects to be funded by €40 million Austrian soft loan decided

·         Mongolia backs additional financing from IFAD to support herders and poor

·         Swiss Agency to continue supporting herders for four more years

·         Two bills concerning herders' pension and social insurance approved

·         Amounts of exports and imports of strategic food defined

·         Mongolia's bumpy journey to independence

·         Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa: 'Parasites' turning Mongolian democracy into cash cow

·         Defacto Interview: Abu Kassim bin Mohamed, Board Member, International Anti-Corruption Academy

·         Defacto Interview: Shervin Majlessi, Senior Legal Advisor, Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative

·         Jargal Defacto: Erdenet's 49 percent stake is private ownership

·         AmCham Daily Newswire for February 2, 2017

·         AmCham Daily Newswire for February 3, 2017

Business

·         Income tax lowered to 1% for SMEs in four sectors

·         Parliament exempts SMEs from customs duty on equipment

·         Regulation on liquor production licensing to be renewed

Ulaanbaatar

·         Traffic restrictions adjusted for Tsagaan Sar

·         Smart parking project to be implemented with Dutch company

·         Mongolians Seek Action on Pollution Amid Smog Crisis

·         Ecological Situation In Mongolia Affects National Security

·         Recommendation of the National Security Council of Mongolia on air pollution

·         ACMS Speaker Series: Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar, Ger Community Mapping Center, February 7

Diplomacy

·         45th anniversary of Mongolia-Australia diplomatic relations to be marked this year

·         PM proposes establishing FTA with Eurasian Economic Commission

·         Parliament Speaker receives UK Ambassador

·         Speaker receives German Ambassador

·         Mongolia FM receives Romanian ambassador on end his term

·         Poland to open Ulaanbaatar embassy in 2018

·         Leaders Advancing Democracy-Mongolia Program

Health & Education

·         3,000 Harvoni Hep-C drugs to be issued free of charge

·         Results of mobile health technology project presented

·         Mongolian immunologist's discovery published in Nature Magazine

·         About 3 thousand people die from cancer a year in Mongolia

·         Mongolian students successful at business simulation contest in Dubai

·         Enabling Access to Higher Education in Post-socialist Mongolia: Empirical Results for Implementation and Implications of Government Policies

Culture & Society

·         People's Revolution leader D.Sukhbaatar's 124th birthday being marked

·         UNFPA Mongolia: Inviting Civil Society Organizations for Combating Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

·         Tsagaan Sar trade fairs kick off all around UB

·         A Cake That's More Spiritual Offering Than Last Course

Nature & Environment

·         2016/2017 Dzud Emergency Response, Mongolia Needs Assessment and Response Plan

·         Distribution and molecular characteristics of rickettsiae found in ticks across Central Mongolia

·         Viral plague spreads to rare saiga antelope in Mongolia

·         Native Fish Species Of Mongolia

·         Native Birds Of Mongolia

Sports

·         'King Tug' prepares for 8th professional fight on March 12

·         Grandmaster T.Batchimeg wins former world chamption Mariya Muzychuk in Gibraltar

·         Ya.Zorigtbaatar breaks Mongolian speed skating record at Universiade

·         Two Scots win one of world's toughest mountain marathons and celebrate in the most patriotic way ever

·         10 things no one tells you before you run an ice marathon

·         National champion boxer E.Tsendbaatar plans to go pro after Tokyo 2020

Art & Entertainment

·         Wonders of the Art of Embroidery exhibition at Bogd Khaan Museum

·         Exhibition: "Pole Star", Blue Moon Art Gallery

·         He Left the Hold Steady for Mongolia

·         Is the Eagle Huntress really a documentary?

Travel

·         Mongolia hopes to attract high-spending Arab tourists

·         Annual "Blue Pearl" International Ice Festival at Khuvsgul Lake Announced for March 3-4

·         MPs call for improvements in infrastructure and civil aviation to develop tourism

·         Time Travel Turtle: Mongolia's Black Market

·         Is it safe to travel to Paris after security incident? Why not try Iceland or Mongolia?

·         How to Experience Traditional Mongolian Culture

 

 

ARTICLES

Int'l Market

Crisis-Hit Mongolia Has an Unlikely Investment Winner

by Lilian Karunungan and Michael Kohn

  • Copper rallying on supply risks, Trump infrastructure plans
  • Probable IMF program not fully priced in: AllianceBernstein

February 3 (Bloomberg) With a shrinking economy, ballooning budget deficit and debt downgrades, Mongolia wasn't an obvious place to put your money last year. But a rebound in copper and the prospect of an IMF rescue package has turned the country's dollar bonds into an investment winner.

The notes returned 1.5 percent in the three months through Thursday, the most among nine Asian markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. indexes. The price of copper, which accounts for around a third of Mongolian exports, is up 20 percent over the period amid supply risks and signs U.S. President Donald Trump will ramp up infrastructure spending.

Speculation the International Monetary Fund will soon finalize a relief program has AllianceBernstein LP and Morgan Stanley Investment Management predicting the bond rally can continue. The IMF mission has arrived in Mongolia and a relief program of around $500 million could be completed before the end of February, Citigroup Inc. said in a Jan. 26 note.

"The current level is yet to price in the prospects of external support and FDI inflows," said Vincent Tsui, an economist at AllianceBernstein in Hong Kong. The IMF package will be accompanied by support from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others, likely to be worth more than $1 billion, he said.

The Mongolian notes have beaten a 0.8 percent drop in a JPMorgan index of emerging-market and frontier sovereign global paper over three months. The yield on Mongolia's dollar debt due April 2021 fell 156 basis points to 9.29 percent from a three-month high on Nov. 29.

There's a "strong likelihood" the nation will tap international markets after getting the IMF package, Citigroup said in the note.

See also: Mongolian Bonds May Look a Winner Now, But at What Cost?: Gadfly

The yields spiked to a high shortly after Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings cut their ratings on Mongolia, citing rising debt and the risk of a balance-of-payments crisis. S&P Global Ratings had already lowered its assessment of the country in August.

Mongolia is struggling with:

  • A 1.6 percent contraction in the economy in the first nine months of 2016, compared with 9.1 percent growth over the same period of 2014
  • A budget deficit amounting to 19.5 percent of GDP last year, from 5 percent in 2015
  • A 20 percent plunge in the tugrik against the dollar in 2016 and a drop in foreign-exchange reserves to a seven-year low in October

The copper rally, which started in late October, is generating optimism the country can recover. The global market for the metal could swing to a deficit amid supply risks from the world's largest mine in Chile as well as in Indonesia, according to Barclays Plc.

The U.S. election has been positive for copper in terms of sentiment, as has China's latest five-year plan, said Sam Spring, the chief executive officer of Kincora Copper Ltd., a miner with exploration rights in Mongolia.

'Nice Narrative'

"It's a nice narrative that the two largest economies in the world might, for the first time, be undertaking significant infrastructure expansion programs at the same time," said the Melbourne-based Spring. Although, the bull market in the metal is being driven more by supply risks, he said.

The rally in Mongolian sovereign bonds means valuations are a "little less attractive," said Philippe Petit, a Singapore-based senior investment manager at Pictet Asset Management, who said he'd taken profits in the past few weeks. The IMF deal needs to be agreed, followed by a successful dollar bond sale, to trigger further gains before a presidential election in June, he said.

Investors are also watching to see whether the state-owned Development Bank of Mongolia will be able to redeem a $580 million bond that matures in March. The country's liquidity position is strong enough to fully repay the notes, the finance ministry said in a statement on Jan. 20.

"We have maintained a long-risk position in Mongolian sovereign and quasi-sovereign bonds," said Warren Mar, the New York-based head of emerging-market credit strategy at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. He said he was watching for two key signposts: the IMF announcement and the repayment of the development bank notes.

Link to article

Back to Headlines

Don't Play With Mongolian Fire

By Christopher Langner

February 3 (Bloomberg Gadfly) Bond investors can sometimes be too sanguine, and Mongolia looks to be an example of that.

The country's sovereign notes have returned 1.5 percent over the past three months, the best performance among nine Asian markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The nation's 10.875 percent U.S. currency debentures due 2021 are trading at 105.3 cents on the dollar to yield 9.3 percent, while its 5.125 percent bonds that mature in 2022 yield 8 percent, down from 11 percent 12 months ago.

Risk Versus Reward

At a yield of 9.3 percent, Mongolia's bonds seem to be offering a decent return...unless you consider the likelihood of default

That's despite the Development Bank of Mongolia LLC facing a $580 million note repayment next month that would wipe out more than half the country's $1.1 billion in reserves. The possibility of a default's so real that people are even donating their jewelry to the government in the hope it gets over the line.

Investors are taking a more optimistic view, betting the International Monetary Fund will finalize a rescue package that will allow the payment to be made and give Mongolia sufficient credibility to sell new bonds to meet other maturities -- there's about $645 million coming due in 2018.

They're also emboldened by the fact that coal and copper -- Mongolia's two main exports -- have recovered from wild selloffs. Newcastle futures rose 87 percent last year while copper rose 16 percent, having plunged 47 percent from its peak in February 2013 to a low in January last year. But even after those rallies, the price of the two commodities remains depressed versus historic levels. Plus some 80 percent of exports are to China, where demand is slowing.

Things could go the way of Mozambique, which is on the verge of default after an expected IMF handout didn't happen. Even if multilateral organizations find no fault with Mongolia, political developments can push a nation over the edge.

As a young finance reporter, I remember attending a press conference with then Argentine minister of economy Domingo Cavallo in Sao Paulo in 2001. I recall being very impressed with his explanation of how he planned to avert a crisis by moving the peso's peg from the dollar to a basket that would include the euro -- then worth less than a buck -- and the yen. The market was buying it at the time, too. Unfortunately for Cavallo, Argentinians were more inclined to bang pots on the streets than donate riches, and one of the biggest sovereign defaults in history happened a few months later.

Mongolia doesn't have a pegged currency and like South Koreans during the Asian financial crisis, its citizens are willing to make personal sacrifices so the nation doesn't miss its obligations. But unlike politics, finance is more of an exact science and here, the math doesn't add up.

The last time Mongolia had a budget surplus was back in 2010, a meager $33.2 million. Last year's $1.5 billion deficit was the highest since at least 2000 and almost three times the figures recorded in 2014 and 2015.

Down the Drain

Mongolia hasn't recorded a surplus in six years and its latest deficit was a record.

The tugrik's 20 percent drop against the dollar in 2016 was its worst one-year loss since 2000 as well. More than 10 percent of loans in the country are nonperforming and some say official statistics underestimate the problem.

It was perhaps figures like these that prompted Franklin Templeton to exit its investment in Mongolia last year. Michael Hasenstab might have missed the latest rally, but, as any savvy investor knows, chasing the last dollar can sometimes be a loss-making strategy.

Link to article

Back to Headlines

TRQ ended week +1.14% to US$3.56

HSBC Boosts Stake in Turquoise Hill Resources

February 1 (DailyQuint) Hsbc Holdings PLC raised its position in Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. (NYSE:TRQ) (TSE:TRQ) by 5.2% during the third quarter, according to its most recent Form 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The fund owned 1,524,026 shares of the company's stock after buying an additional 74,736 shares during the period. Hsbc Holdings PLC owned 0.08% of Turquoise Hill Resources worth $4,541,000 as of its most recent SEC filing.

A number of other institutional investors have also modified their holdings of the company. A.R.T. Advisors LLC raised its position in shares of Turquoise Hill Resources by 15.0% in the second quarter. A.R.T. Advisors LLC now owns 97,032 shares of the company's stock worth $327,000 after buying an additional 12,645 shares in the last quarter. Key Group Holdings Cayman LTD. acquired a new position in shares of Turquoise Hill Resources during the second quarter worth $13,717,000. Mackenzie Financial Corp acquired a new position in shares of Turquoise Hill Resources during the second quarter worth $127,000. Korea Investment CORP acquired a new position in shares of Turquoise Hill Resources during the second quarter worth $1,650,000. Finally, IndexIQ Advisors LLC raised its position in shares of Turquoise Hill Resources by 249.1% in the second quarter. IndexIQ Advisors LLC now owns 396,700 shares of the company's stock worth $1,341,000 after buying an additional 283,053 shares in the last quarter. Hedge funds and other institutional investors own 30.31% of the company's stock.

Shares of Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. (NYSE:TRQ) traded up 4.03% during midday trading on Tuesday, reaching $3.61. 6,154,099 shares of the company were exchanged. Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. has a 12-month low of $1.78 and a 12-month high of $3.67. The stock has a market capitalization of $7.26 billion, a P/E ratio of 25.24 and a beta of 0.66. The company has a 50 day moving average price of $3.37 and a 200-day moving average price of $3.23.

Link to article

Back to Headlines

WOF last traded A$0.033 on Feb 1. +73.7% YTD

Wolf Petroleum Director Jack James Buys 5,000 Shares

Link to notice

Back to Headlines

Local Market

Mogi: MSE site is buggy today. No Friday or weekly report

Back to Headlines

Hermes Centre JSC Announces ₮320 Million Dividend

February 3 (MSE) According to the Resolution No.: 02 of Board of Directors meeting of "Hermes Center" JSC, dated on 31 January 2017, "Hermes Center" JSC decided to distribute MNT320.0 million as a dividend, which is 98.9 percent of total profit MNT323.6 million of first half year of 2016. Rest of MNT3.6 million will be used for company's salary, bonus and reserve fund.

Link to release

Back to Headlines

Economy

Reds are when MNT fell, greens when it rose. Bold reds are rates that set a new historic high at the time.

BoM MNT Rates: Friday, February 3 Close

 

2/3

2/2

2/1

1/31

1/30

1/27

1/26

1/25

1/24

1/23

High

Date

USD

2,474.20

2,471.00

2,463.13

2,459.44

2,463.23

2,465.63

2,474.49

2,479.91

2,484.27

2,487.89

2,498.75

1/10/2017

EUR

2,661.50

2,667.07

2,655.38

2,631.48

2,635.53

2,631.57

2,655.25

2,656.85

2,667.61

2,672.62

2,681.43

11/10/2016

JPY

21.87

21.90

21.69

21.66

21.47

21.40

21.75

21.84

21.91

21.92

23.49

11/9/2016

GBP

3,097.33

3,129.89

3,097.02

3,070.61

3,092.09

3,095.97

3,124.79

3,098.65

3,097.51

3,099.29

3,183.26

8/13/2014

RUB

41.69

41.18

40.85

40.91

40.93

40.89

41.43

41.94

41.94

41.84

54.32

6/27/2014

CNY

360.20

359.07

357.93

357.39

357.94

358.29

359.65

360.51

362.32

362.77

363.02

1/5/2017

KRW

2.16

2.15

2.13

2.11

2.09

2.10

2.13

2.13

2.13

2.13

2.16

2/3/2017

SGD

1,750.41

1,751.55

1,742.08

1,734.01

1,727.13

1,725.79

1,744.81

1,745.37

1,750.47

1,753.21

1,757.02

1/18/2017

CAD

1,898.85

1,899.02

1,883.56

1,878.01

1,874.60

1,880.87

1,890.80

1,886.51

1,872.52

1,874.26

1,908.84

1/18/2017

AUD

1,892.27

1,889.45

1,864.84

1,859.71

1,859.49

1,856.25

1,869.72

1,867.50

1,877.49

1,881.34

1,892.27

2/3/2017

HKD

318.88

318.44

317.45

317.02

317.47

317.80

318.97

319.68

320.27

320.71

322.21

1/10/2017

CHF

2,490.14

2,495.33

2,485.25

2,471.67

2,466.07

2,461.20

2,474.98

2,474.34

2,485.64

2,490.38

2,497.77

11/09/2016

Bank USD rates at time of sending: Khan (Buy ₮2,470 Sell ₮2,480), TDB (Buy ₮2,472 Sell ₮2,482), Golomt (Buy ₮2,470 Sell ₮2,480), XacBank (Buy ₮2,466 Sell ₮2,478), State Bank (Buy ₮2,470 Sell ₮2,482)

USD (blue), CNY (red) vs MNT in last 1 year:

Link to rates

Back to Headlines

BoM sells US$16.2m at 2,460, declines CNY bid, MNT, USD swap offers

February 2 (Bank of Mongolia) Spot trade: Commercial banks bid weighted average rate of MNT2467.45 for USD17.6 million and weighted average rate of MNT356.10 for CNY56.0 million respectively. The BoM sold USD16.2 million with a closing rate of MNT2460.00.

Swap and forward trade: The BoM received buying bid offers of USD2.0 million of MNT swap agreements and selling bid offers of USD30.0 million of USD swap agreements from commercial banks and the BoM did not receive any bid offers.

Link to release

Back to Headlines

BoM issues 127 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding +1.1% to ₮452.55 billion

February 3 (Bank of Mongolia) BoM issues 1 week bills worth MNT 127 billion at a weighted interest rate of 14.0 percent per annum /For previous auctions click here/

Link to release

Back to Headlines

FX Reserves Fall 0.58% in December to $1.3 Billion, Down 2.03% from 2015

Date

Gross Reserves

Monthly, %

YTD, %

YOY, %

2016/12

1,296.3

-0.58

-2.03

-2.03

2016/11

1,303.9

25.54

-1.45

-10.61

2016/10

1,038.7

-4.92

-21.50

-26.17

2016/09

1,092.4

-4.34

-17.44

-22.68

2016/08

1,141.9

-10.46

-13.70

-33.94

2016/07

1,275.3

-1.64

-3.62

-25.30

2016/06

1,296.6

-10.08

-2.00

-23.08

2016/05

1,441.9

-6.62

8.98

-9.37

2016/04

1,544.1

22.04

16.70

21.85

2016/03

1,265.3

5.68

-4.37

-4.43

2016/02

1,197.3

-9.54

-9.51

-12.12

2016/01

1,323.5

0.03

0.03

-0.32

2015/12

1,323.1

-9.29

-19.81

-19.81

Link to BoM page

Back to Headlines

BoM buys 707.27 kgs of gold in January, 19.6% more than 2016

February 2017 (BoM) --

Date

Month

Year-to-Date

YoY Change

2017/01

770.27

770.27

126.17

2016/12

681.9

18,308.4

3,224.4

2016/11

1,713.0

17,626.5

3,237.3

2016/10

2,174.2

15,913.5

3,042.8

2016/09

2,071.4

13,739.3

3,542.6

2016/08

3,027.5

11,668.0

4,264.8

2016/07

2,167.6

8,640.4

3,231.1

2016/06

2,015.0

6,472.8

2,711.1

2016/05

1,769.4

4,457.7

2,040.1

2016/04

826.2

2,688.4

1,166.2

2016/03

679.5

1,862.1

876.6

2016/02

538.4

1,182.6

484.1

2016/01

644.1

644.1

419.8

Link to data (in Mongolian)

Back to Headlines

BoM: Deflation risk to continue till Q3 of 2017

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ Inflation is projected to remain at low level, said the Bank of Mongolia (BoM) in the Inflation Report as of last December.

The base forecast shows that due to slowing economic activity for the year, deflation will continue until the third quarter of 2017. Price level will increase due to exchange rate devaluation, but inflation is expected to remain low.

Food and non-food inflation will continue to decrease until the second half of 2017, where it is expected to rise due to the base period effect.

Consumer price index-based annual inflation reached -0.1% in September 2016, falling 1.6 percentage points from the previous quarter and 5.0 percentage points compared to the previous year. The decline in annual inflation comes after three quarters of continuous deflation.

Low, stable inflation in the first half of 2016 was followed by falling prices and deflation in Q3, due to the following:

1) Meat prices declined 23.5% and had a negative impact on inflation.

2) Although state administrated service prices are increased in Q3 of every year, there was no price change this year, eliminating its effect on inflation.

3) Diminishing household incomes across the last five quarters has led to a decrease in demand-side inflation.

The contribution of food prices to headline inflation also decreased in September 2016, by 0.6 percentage points compared to the previous year. The sharp fall in meat prices this quarter, adhering to its seasonal pattern, was the main influencing factor. As of the end of September, the price per kilogram for mutton and beef fell by MNT 1500 – 1700 compared to the previous quarter's end.

The contribution of non-food product and service prices decreased by 1.7 percentage points compared to the end of the previous quarter and 5 percentage points from the previous year, due to the lack of price change in state administrated services this year and shrinking domestic demand.

Food prices are not expected to rise much in the coming months. Cold winter forecasts and dzud warnings may increase meat supply and reserves. Price pressures of non-food product and service on inflation is not expected to rise much in the coming months. However, exchange rates may contribute directly and indirectly to increased inflation, BoM reported.

Link to article

BoM Inflation Report, December 2016

Back to Headlines

Mongolian taxpayers receive their first ever VAT refunds

February 2 (gogo.mn) 2016 tax refund has started to be issued to claimed taxpayers starting today (Feb 2nd). 

This year 620 thousand taxpayers is expected to receive total of MNT 35 billion from tax refund. 

Unless you claim your refund online, registering your registration number and bank account number on "ebarimt.mn", you will not get the reimbursement of 2% of the VAT that you have paid.

See the guide below on how to register.

Step 1. Log in to www.ebarimt.mn with your username and password

Step 2. Go the personal information section

Step 3. Choose your bank and add your bank account number.

Step 4. Click the "foreign citizen" box

Step 5. Add your name and alien registration number

Step 6. Save the changes and you are all done!

Link to article

Back to Headlines

Mongolia hopes to receive IMF bailout this month

February 2 (news.mn) At the end of last year, representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, to evaluate the state of the economy and conduct meetings with the government. Following that IMF mission, which took place from October 24th to November 4th, it was decided to make a visit at the beginning of 2017, The IMF team had planned to arrive in Ulaanbaatar on 20th of January, but, was delayed arriving in Ulaanbaatar until 30th of January, with some of the members arriving the next day.

Mongolian Finance Minister B.Choijilsuren, said: 'The Government deal with the IMF delegation has entered its final stage. We expect to sign a loan agreement with the IMF team by February 15th'

A deal with the IMF would ease Mongolia's financial concerns before the March deadline, when the Development Bank of Mongolia's $580mn bond matures. Regarding this issue, Mr B.Choijilsuren said: 'The Government has two or three other options. In any event, we are quite confident that repayment will be made.

Link to article

Back to Headlines

MoF reports on arrival of IMF representatives

February 5 (UB Post) International Monetary Fund (IMF) representatives arrived in Ulaanbaatar on January 30, with another team arriving on January 31, and another team set to arrive on February 5, according to Minister of Finance B.Choijilsuren.

Minister B.Choijilsuren told journalists that the government's negotiations with the IMF are resuming, and that a final decision on whether or not Mongolia will enroll in a standby agenda will be clear by February 15.

An IMF team visited Mongolia from October 24 to November 4 to become familiar with the government's monetary policy and the current economic situation.

The Ministry of Finance and Cabinet will be speaking to the IMF about which standby plan to enroll in. The IMF offers two types of programs within its standby agenda, the standby credit facility and the standby arrangement. The standby credit facility is offered to underdeveloped countries in economic crisis, and the standby arrangement is an IMF loan offered to developing countries.

The standby credit facility provides financial assistance to low-income countries with short-term balance of payments needs. The usual duration of the loan is 12 to 24 months. The standby credit facility is chosen if it is thought that the macroeconomic issues of a country can be resolved within two years. The IMF requires that the spending be concentrated on fostering development and decreasing poverty.

The IMF standby arrangement is financial aid provided to a member state in need of financial assistance, normally arising from a financial crisis. In return for aid, the economic program stipulates needed reforms in the recipient country aimed at bringing it back on a path of financial stability and economic sustainability.

Link to article

Back to Headlines

Goodbye volatility, hello steady growth, says Mongolia's finance chief

IMF is helping set the stage for years of 6-8% growth

by KEN KOYANAGI, Editor-at-large, Nikkei Asian Review

ULAANBAATAR, February 2 (Nikkei Asian Review) Mongolia is promoting macroeconomic policies aimed at producing years of stable annual growth of 6-8%, Finance Minister Choijilsuren Battogtokh told the Nikkei Asian Review.

The Mongolian economy roared ahead at a world-beating 17.3% in 2011. Just five years later, however, growth nearly ground to a halt, expanding a mere 0.3%, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The economy has been "unpredictable and high-risk [for investors]," Choijilsuren told the NAR in mid-January. But "at a 6-8% pace, we can constantly grow for at least 10 years." During that period, the country can "regain investors' confidence and establish a ... foundation for development," he said.

Mongolia's growth target is in line with advice from the International Monetary Fund, with which the country is negotiating a financial aid package. Choijilsuren said his government and the IMF will likely agree on the basic conditions by Feb. 15. Such conditions typically include fiscal and monetary austerity measures and structural reforms.

In November, the Mongolian parliament approved the 2017 budget, which calls for slashing spending by over 10% from 2016. Choijilsuren said those reductions will continue in 2018, and that the government will further trim the 2017 budget if the talks with the IMF suggest it is necessary.

"Of course people don't like budget cuts," Choijilsuren said. "But our [ruling Mongolian People's Party] is not working for election votes but for the nation," he said, a reference perhaps to populist spending measures of previous governments that have caused the fiscal deficit to balloon to 18% of gross domestic product.

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China's Belt and Road initiative provides fresh opportunity for Mongolia's crisis

February 5 (Global Times) A recent article from Reuters reporting that "private citizens in Mongolia are donating cash, jewelry, gold and even horses" to help the government pay off its debts shows the severity of the economic crisis in the cash-strapped nation. However, with a population of only 3.12 million, Mongolia is unlikely to pull through by relying simply on public donations. Many wonder whether China will offer assistance to Mongolia and how China's One Belt, One Road initiative could play a role in revitalizing the regional economy.

As of September last year, Mongolia's debt across all sectors stood at $23.8 billion, accounting for over 210 percent of its GDP. Realistically, it won't be easy for Mongolia to keep from defaulting on its debt amid rumors that the country can't pay the salaries of its national athletes. China may need a plan to help prevent the crisis from spreading to other countries within the region and to provide its neighbor with necessary assistance. With more than $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China has the ability to safeguard regional financial stability amid economic uncertainty caused by sluggish global demand and falling commodity prices.

However, it's unrealistic to pin all hopes of lifting Mongolia out of hardship on external assistance. One of Mongolia's biggest challenges right now is the low level of its foreign exchange reserve. As such, the resource-rich country is in urgent need of measures that will boost its exports in a bid to increase the country's trade surplus.

The Mongolian economy has long been centered around mining and agriculture. Developing the deep processing industry in agriculture and resource products is not a new topic for Mongolia, but China's One Belt, One Road initiative now provides a fresh opportunity for Mongolia's economic development. The initiative aims to improve infrastructure in countries including Mongolia and is likely to bring in investment that the cash-strapped nation desperately needs.

Mongolia should seize the opportunity to upgrade its industrial structure to create a solid foundation to develop its manufacturing industry. China and Mongolia could adopt flexible forms, such as a resource-for-loans deals in which loans are repaid with resource goods, to push forward bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road initiative or other mechanisms. Such measures would have referential value for relevant countries if the initiative proves itself a success in Mongolia.

The Mongolian economy grew by 17 percent in 2011. It is still possible for the resource-rich country to regain its former glory, but the nation will need to work harder to improve its investment environment, maintain political stability and curb corruption to lure more investors.

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Battered Mongolia faces make-or-break moment

Government reforms, commodity upswing set stage for an economic resurgence

by KEN KOYANAGI, Editor-at-large, Nikkei Asian Review

February 2 (Nikkei Asian Review) The roller-coaster ride that was the commodity supercycle sent Mongolia's resource-driven economy pinwheeling from 17% growth in 2011 to an external debt crisis just a few years later. But with commodity prices rebounding and the IMF swooping in for an imminent bailout, many feel the worst may be over. Can the country -- so ripe with potential -- transform this moment into the lasting stability its people and businesses have waited so long for? 

ULAANBAATAR 

At about 4 o'clock on a mid-January afternoon, the temperature in the Mongolian capital was lower than minus 30 C. In spite of the cold, people could be seen lugging containers of water from a roadside water station to their homes in one of the many ger districts on the outskirts of the city.

These districts are home to more than 700,000 residents, most living in poverty. The districts lack water supply systems, leaving residents no choice but to buy well water at nearby stations for 1 tugrik (0.04 cents) per liter.

BUILT-IN PROBLEMS 

Ger districts sprang up in post-communist Mongolia when new land laws automatically entitled each citizen to a free 700-sq.-meter plot of land in designated urban areas. This prompted massive urban migration starting in the late 1990s by former nomadic herders looking for better education for their children and a more modern lifestyle. They brought their traditional tents, or gers, onto their plots, and settled down.

The land policy, however, was not accompanied by an urban development policy. Neither the national nor the city government has provided any infrastructure in ger districts other than electric power. Consequently, most of the people living in these neighborhoods -- more than one-fifth of the country's total population of 3.1 million -- have no plumbing, sewage, paved streets or schools.

The current recession is hitting these districts particularly hard.

At the edge of one ger district is a small supermarket. The 53-year-old store manager, who calls herself Tugszaya, said 8 out of 10 of the adults she knows have lost their low-skill jobs, such as load handling or truck driving, during the last few years.

"Most people have stopped eating luxury stuff like cakes even for the year-end holidays," she said. "They are cutting [back] on even basic foods to buy fuel for their stoves. Look how few shoppers we have."

One reason for this is the lack of education needed to secure better, more stable jobs. For ger districts lacking even schools for children, adult training centers for former herders remain a distant dream.

BIGGER PICTURE 

The lack of long-term planning and investment behind the trouble in the ger districts is reflected in the country's economic structure.

The mining sector accounted for as much as 25% of gross domestic product in 2015, coming in at $11.7 billion, while manufacturing accounted for just 9%. Copper, gold, iron ore and other metals made up 67% of exports that year, while coal and crude oil made up 23%.

Diversification is the obvious answer to Mongolia's economic woes, but this also requires broad-based, long-term efforts, such as promoting foreign investment, investing in education, and providing research funding.

Another clear risk to the country's economy is its extreme dependence on China as a trade partner. China took in 83% of Mongolia's exports in 2015 and accounted for 36% of imports to the country. A slight slowdown in demand or supply in this neighboring giant could easily play havoc with the Mongolian economy.

To diversify its trade partners, Mongolia needs to not only diversify its industry, but to also invest more in logistics infrastructure to improve connectivity with other countries.

The first freight train from China to the U.K. departed on New Year's Day from the eastern city of Yiwu and arrived in London later in January without having passed through Mongolia. Such a route would only have been an option if the country had an adequate rail system in place.

The obvious lack of social investment does not, however, mean that the Mongolian government has been short of funds.

WASTED OPPORTUNITIES 

Of the last 17 years, the country has achieved double-digit real annual GDP growth in five years and above-5% growth in six others, buoyed by commodity price upcycles. GDP per capita grew eightfold from 2000 to $3,967 in 2015, though this was down from a peak of $4,400 in 2013.

General government revenue grew from less than 500 billion tugrik in the early 2000s to over 5 trillion tugrik in recent years.

On top of that, the government and government-affiliated entities raised billions of dollars through foreign-currency bond issuances and international loans, especially starting from 2011, even though the country had just turned to the International Monetary Fund to rescue it from the 2008 financial crisis. Public external debt mushroomed from about $2.5 billion, or 31% of GDP, at the end of 2010 to $8.5 billion, roughly 85% of estimated GDP, in 2016.

So where has all the money gone? In a word, corruption.

For 70 years, Mongolia was a Soviet satellite ruled as a single-party state by the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. This communist leadership was toppled, and the country held its first democratic election in 1990.

Mongolia, in other words, is still a young democracy, and elections have revolved largely around factional power struggles. Politicians eager to get elected are quick to promise voters direct, short-term economic benefits.

In the 2008 election campaign, for example, both the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Mongolian People's Party promised cash handouts of 1 million to 1.5 million tugrik (roughly $406-$609) for "every Mongolian" as a share of the nation's mining revenue. The coalition government that eventually formed later announced a multiyear plan to give each citizen 1.5 million tugrik, which would theoretically cost 65% of GDP in 2008.

This universal cash handout was actually implemented from 2010 through 2012, adding to the fiscal deficit and eventually increasing the country's dependence on external debt.

A 2012 law banned election promises of cash handouts, but politicians have continued finding loopholes. One involved the government buying back shares in a national mining company that had previously been distributed to citizens.

Conflicts of interest are rife in Mongolian government. Finance Minister Choijilsuren Battogtokh, for example, owns the country's largest real estate development conglomerate, Khurd Group, and is believed to be one of the country's richest people. Byambatsogt Sandag, the justice and internal affairs minister, is the chief executive of a road construction company. Both of these companies are engaged in public projects.

"Ministers and government positions are lucrative businesses," said Batsuuri Haltar, a prominent independent economist based in Ulaanbaatar. "Especially if they have their own businesses, they can make a fortune during their tenure."

Such widespread corruption has repeatedly disappointed foreign investors and aid donors.

A sovereign debt fund set up by the Development Bank of Mongolia in 2011, for example, attracted an over-subscription among foreign investors when it announced issuance of a five-year, $580 million bond the following year. The money was supposed to be invested in industrial zone development and other infrastructure projects under parliamentary supervision.

Around 2013, however, the chief executive of the DBM, who had been appointed by the Democratic Party, started using the fund without approval by the parliament. The Mongolian People's Party took the power in June, and he was arrested on charges of corruption in October.

The DBM bond is due on March 21. International lenders and aid donors are watching closely to see whether the Mongolian government, with assistance from the IMF, can make the payment or roll it over, or whether it will default.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE 

The picture might look bleak, but January brought some welcome news to the coldest capital city on earth: The economy may have bottomed out last year.

Nyamaa Buyantogtokh, Mongolia's state finance secretary, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the fiscal deficit for 2016 had ended up around 15% of GDP, less than an earlier projection of 18%, thanks to rebounds in commodities prices and production late last year.

General government revenue for 2016 is estimated to have reached 5.85 trillion tugrik, up a half trillion tugrik from the government's previous projection in September. The government managed to cut expenditures by more than 200 billion tugrik from the September projection to 9.52 trillion tugrik.

Gold and coal exports for November and December also turned out to be strong. Exports of copper, which saw a sudden price surge in November, were also robust in late 2016.

These positive surprises in commodity exports may result in the actual growth rate for 2016 coming in slightly better than the Asian Development Bank's latest estimate of 0.3%.

The Bank of Mongolia's tight monetary policy, especially after the general election in June, kept inflation in the latter half of 2016 in negative territory. Low inflation finally halted the tugrik's depreciation against major currencies, with the dollar exchange rate peaking just below 2,500 tugrik in December.

The Mongolian currency hit less than 1,200 to the dollar in spring 2011, the year the economy recorded a record-high 17% growth, and had been depreciating since.

While an improved commodities market provided a major tailwind for the economy, the government can also take some credit. The Mongolian People's Party has implemented a number of much-needed reforms. As a result, the IMF will likely agree to extend a second bailout package in less than a decade (the previous one was in 2009) by mid-February, according to sources close to the matter.

SECOND CHANCE 

So far so good this year. But the country still faces more than $2 billion in external sovereign debt reaching maturity within five years, and securing a real turnaround in the economy will require some fundamental changes.

Morgan Stanley economist Ruchir Sharma, in his book "The Rise and Fall of Nations," emphasizes the importance for emerging economies to develop less politically driven, more productive industries, such as information and communications technologies, manufacturing and retail. Fortunately for Mongolia, there are signs that these kinds of "good" industries are on the rise.

Uuganbaatar Altanchimeg, a 37-year-old computer scientist, returned to Ulaanbaatar in 2013 after working as a software engineer in Japan for six years. Last summer, he and another engineer who had also come back from Japan founded Bers Solution to develop and market portable equipment for quick diagnosis of diabetes.

Diabetes is the second most common cause of adult deaths in Mongolia, partly due to the scarcity of clinics and hospitals capable of diagnosis. The Bers product enables diagnosis in remote locations by sending patient data to a hospital in a major city.

Uuganbaatar said he hopes to "help the country develop the technology industry" by growing his startup into a midsize business. He plans to hire several new engineers and launch a few new development projects within a year or so. He said he is also thinking about venture-capital fund raising in the near future.

IT is just one of the many promising nonmining sectors in Mongolia.

Last September, Clean Energy Asia, a joint venture of Newcom of Mongolia and SoftBank Group of Japan, announced it plans to start commercial operation of a wind energy farm in the Mongolian Gobi Desert by the end of 2017, with financial support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

SoftBank estimates that Mongolia has the potential to generate enough solar and wind power to meet Asia's entire demand for electricity due to its sunny and windy climate. The Japanese group has launched a joint feasibility study with Chinese, South Korean and Russian partners on the concept of an "Asia Super Grid" that would connect power sources in Mongolia with those in other countries across the region.

Mongolia's tourism industry also has room for growth, and its cashmere wool producers are exploring ways to move higher up the value chain in the fashion industry.

Khashchuluun Chuluundorj, an economics professor at the National University of Mongolia, emphasizes the potential for the private sector to drive economic development. "If the international level of transparency and discipline are put in place in both the government and private sector, the country should be able to proceed on a steadier growth path than in the past," he said.

Mongolia missed its chance to secure stable growth during the last commodities upswings. But with resource prices once again rising, the government finally pushing for reform and the private sector poised for growth, this could be the second chance the country has been waiting for.

Additional reporting by contributing writer Khaliun Bayartsogt in Ulaanbaatar

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Politics & Legal

Mongolian citizens offer cash, jewellery, horses to pay off gov't debt

ULAANBAATAR/HONG KONG, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Private citizens in Mongolia are donating cash, jewellery, gold and even horses to help the government make a near $600 million payment to bondholders next month.

The cash-strapped nation has been embroiled in an economic crisis brought about by a collapse in foreign investment, slowing growth in China and weak commodity prices.

Its currency, the tugrik, lost nearly a quarter of its value last year.

The government has been in talks with China and the International Monetary Fund for assistance, but investors are worried that any bailouts might not be negotiated in time, with the Development Bank of Mongolia's $580 million of bonds due in March.

Though the Mongolian public has been hit by welfare cuts, rising food and fuel costs and a tough winter that is threatening to kill large numbers of livestock, donations began to flood in this week after a campaign was launched by a prominent economist and members of parliament.

Corporate groups and legislators were also chipping in with cash contributions of as much as 100 million tugrik ($40,650).

Mongolia's foreign currency reserves are at a seven-year low, according to credit rating agency Fitch, and redeeming DBM's bonds could halve its total stockpile, which stood at $1.1 billion in September last year.

"What is the intention of the government remains the key," said a Hong Kong-based trader.

"If they don't get the IMF bailout, where do they get the resources for this payment, without which they can't do a new bond to refinance? It's a chicken and egg situation."

Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat said that while the government would accept the donations, it had already "found a solution" for the March bond payment and would spend the cash elsewhere.

"The government cannot prohibit the start of any citizen-run campaign," he said in a statement released on Wednesday.

"The cabinet has decided to spend voluntary donations on health, education and reducing smog as well as public infrastructure," he added.

A senior Mongolian finance official said late last year that the country was looking to refinance its debt through lower-interest loans, and insisted the payments would be met in full.

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Cash-Strapped Mongolia Is Now Selling Jewelry and Horses to Pay DebtForeign Policy, February 2

Mongolians donate to pay off debtIFR Asia, February 4

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MP J. Batzandan donates 3-month salary to state budget

Parliament members have started joining the donation campaign that aims to save the economy. Today MP J.Batzandan announced to donate his three months` salary to the state budget. 

He said that rich people should join the donation campaign. Also, politicians with offshore account should donate their hidden money too. Donating is a patriotic initiative. Public want us to spend the donation wisely. Thus, it should be monitored. 

On Jan 31st, economist B.Osorgarav has initiated the donation campaign among the people and donated MNT 10 million, 10 horses and his golden ring. Following, MP B.Delgersaikhan agreed to donate MNT 100 million, noting that the Government is scheduled to repay the Development Bank`s USD 580 million bond in March, 2017, however, the country is in a deep state of economic crisis.

Moreover, MP N.Oyundari has expressed her support for this initiative and promised to donate certain amount of money to the state budget. 

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Mogi: isn't it the same thing at the end of day?

PM states that charitable contributions will not be used for bond repayment

Prime Minister J.Erdenbat stated that any charitable contributions made to the government will not be used to repay the state's debt obligations. The announcement was made in response to economist B.Osorgarav's call to individuals and businesses to contribute to a fund to help revive the economy.

"The contributions are the charitable acts of citizens. The government did not ask for the fund to be created, nor has it asked for it to be stopped. We cannot turn away donations from people who want to contribute to the country," the PM said.

An account will be opened to direct contributions to B.Osorgarav's fund to the Government Resource Fund. The PM delegated the responsibility of reporting on the contributions to Finance Minister B.Choijilsuren.

J.Erdenebat reiterated statements he made in January, saying that the government has already found a way to repay its bond debt. He reported that any charitable contributions received will be directed to health and education, as well as air pollution eradication efforts. The PM noted that people who contribute to the fund will be awarded certificates of appreciation and be thanked officially.

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PM: Donations to pay off debt won't be spent on paying off debtMontsame, February 2

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ETT to settle Chalco debt by April

February 2 (news.mn) Mongolia has been paying off its USD 350 million debt to the Chinese aluminum company (CHALCO) in the form of all its deliveries of coal from the East Tsankhi section of the Tavan Tolgoi deposit. According to Ts.Tsendmaa, senior specialist at Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi LLC, Mongolia's debt to the Chinese company now stands at USD 70 million and that the balance will be extinguished during the first quarter of 2017.  Mongolia has been paying off these debts since 2011.

Erdenes TT has been supplying coal from East Tsankhi to CHALCO at the rate USD 59.3 since January. Previously, the coal price stood at USD 27-33. However, coal from West Tsankhi is now being sold for USD 71.5 at the mine.

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ETT needs to go public for citizens to realize their shares

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) Yesterday, a discussion on 'The ways to move Erdenes Tavantolgoi stock" was organized by 'Changer' economic journalists' club. There is a rough estimation that 80 per cent of the total 10 billion shares of 'Erdenes Tavantolgoi' company (ETT) are owned by government, of which 14 per cent by citizens and 0.6 per cent by national companies.

"It is difficult to calculate exactly how many citizens now own 1072 shares of ETT as the government bought shares from students for their tuition and also bought from elders in cash of MNT1.5 million as well as right to own the share has not yet been formalized for citizens, who  were born since March 31, 2011" said chief specialist in charge of shares of ETT Ts.Tsendmaa. "The future of 1072 shares will depend on the result of investment agreement talks on developing TavanTolgoi" she noted.

"- Even though TT deposit has a reserve of 7.3 billion tons of coal, infrastructure has not developed there and needs USD300-400 million for the development. It is impossible to raise such capital from domestic investment. Trading ETT shares at international exchange stock will cost high".

The guests of the discussion agreed that first of all ETT should be registered to the Mongolian Stock Exchange and make IPO to enable citizens to inherit or trade their shares.

Chairperson of the Board of director of the Mongolian Association of Securities Dealers B.Ulziibayar said "- ETT should work following company principles. In other words, citizens will benefit from the shares when professional team works in the company, not depending on politics.  The share owners still have no right to sell, buy or inherit the share, as if they do not own them. It is time to settle it".

Financial data of ETT shows that it has a debt of USD76 million to Chinese Chalco and USD200 million to the Development Bank. ETT is expected to gain more income due to coal price increase and to pay up of the loan to Chalco within the first quarter of 2017.

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Mongolia to increase stake in World Bank's IBRD

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) In yesterday's cabinet meeting, the Government decided to increase Mongolian share in capital stock of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank group by 143 shares par value of USD120,635 and to grow up its special shares by 71.

The increased shares are believed to allow Mongolia to hold active foreign policy, to realize long-term goal to strengthen its position in the world economy through international financial institutions and utilize concessional financial sources from international banks and financial institutions.

Share in the bank's capital stock accounts for voting power and ceiling for the bank's financing and Mongolia has 0.06 per cent vote.

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Auditor General to audit government's first half 2016 books

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) On February 1, D.Khurelbaatar, Auditor General of Mongolia presented a plan and program as well as a letter on performance audit on the activities of the government in 2017 to the Prime Minister J.Erdenebat and ministers of the government.

D.Khurelbaatar said "We are going to carry out the audit in compliance with international standards and legislations and regulations. I believe that disciplining mutual responsibility will be recognized during this time".

The audit organization plans to perform the audit on the actions of the government in the first half-year, in particular; - implementation of general guidelines for social and economic development of 2016, outcomes and fulfillment of the investment projects and measures financed by state budget in 2016 and result of realization of debt management of the government.

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Breach of law and regulations to be governed by one general law

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) The Cabinet approved the concept of draft law on investigation and decision of violations, and the draft amendments to related laws and regulations. The bills will be submitted to the parliament.

The function of violations' investigation and decision is the authority of law enforcement, customs, taxation and specialized inspection agencies, the Bank of Mongolia, Financial Regulatory Committee and the Social Insurance Authority. The function is currently governed by the laws on Administrative Responsibilities, State Monitoring, Competitions and on Customs and the General Tax Law.

However, duplications of regulations have been making it more complex to determine responsibilities.

If adopted, the Law on Investigation and Decision of Violations will set out comprehensive regulations to determine the activities of various officials during the process of investigating and holding the offenders responsible.

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Mongolia seeks to shorten suspect holding period from 3 days to 1

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) At its regular meeting on February 1, the Cabinet discussed bills on Criminal Procedure and other related laws, and decided to submit to Parliament.

The bill reflects certain provisions on ensuring human rights, improving correlations between law organizations and increasing their responsibilities. In particular, the bill proposes 24 hours detention without arrest warrant for suspects instead of 72 hours.

A study conducted by General Executive Agency of Court Decision of Mongolia shows that in 2014, 650 suspects out of 1863 were kept in police detention for 72 hours until release; and 913 suspects were held for 14 days, but 300 of them were convicted for further imprisonment.

The bill also includes a provision on simplifying court procedures for those who confessed to the crime, compensated all the damages and cases with no appeal or legal debate. Not only does the bill propose broadened the scope of attorney's activities, it reflects provisions concerning protecting the identity of witness and victim by taking measures such as obscuring them from sight, changing their voice through necessary equipment or proceeding with the court without mandatory presence by the witness or victim.  

Also, the bill proposes to repeal the arrangement which allows court to reject cases convicted by prosecution for re-investigation.

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Parliament moves air navigation system to unprivatizable list

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ On February 2, the State Great Khural approved a resolution to make an addition to the List of State Properties Exclusive From Privatization.

Mongolia has taken an obligation, upon joining the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, to maintain the air navigation surveillance system and network as public properties. This entailed a requirement to amend the Annex of the parliamentary resolution on the List of State Properties Exclusive from Privatization.

The parliament voted to approve the addition to the List on the first reading. 

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Parliament approves revised law on disaster protection

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ On February 2, a revised law on disaster protection was approved by the Parliament. The President of Mongolia initiated the revised law and submitted the draft on December 27, 2016.

The new law reflected disaster protection serviceman's family would be given compensation equal to ten years' average salary, when he/she lost life whilst discharging duties.  According to currently effective law, the compensation has been average of deceased's monthly salary of ten years period.

"It is essential to make people aware of protecting themselves during natural disasters. In socialist era such training used to be held. Now, the risk of disaster is rising due to the increased occurence of natural disasters. The annual number of earthquake vibrations has reached 2600 and there are 6 faults. Therefore aware of earthquake protection measures is vital" stated MP D.Sarangerel.

This law provides for the different levels of disaster protection readiness in Mongolia and the measures to be carried out in case of high level disaster risks. It regulates the structure and management of disaster protection organizations and services at national and local levels, and the duties and responsibilities of protection and rescue units and teams, enterprises and general public in disaster prevention.

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Cabinet moves $79 million IDA loan to standing committees

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) At its regular meeting on February 1, the Cabinet resolved to discuss a draft on General funding program between the Government of Mongolia and International Development Association of World Bank with corresponding Parliamentary committees.

The General funding program reflects the sources for USD 79 million loan which was allotted by the Association for Mongolia in 2015-2017.

The Government plans to spend the loan on realizing projects and programs aimed at supporting employment, strengthening legal environment on macro economy and finance sectors, improving energy distribution capacities and supplying western region energy demands with renewable energy.

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Projects to be funded by €40 million Austrian soft loan decided

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) At its regular meeting on February 1, the Cabinet resolved to finance following projects with EUR 40 million, an amount to be provided in the frameworks of Mongolia-Austria intergovernmental agreement on Financial Cooperation.

The money will be spent on Public servants' hospital, infrastructure development in Bayanzurkh and Songinokhairkhan districts in order to reduce air pollution, Taishir-Altai water supply project and renewing the equipments of National Center for Maternal and Child Health of Mongolia.

Corresponding Ministers were tasked to look over the implementation of these projects. The Government of Austria is granting EUR 40 million soft loan on conditions of 18 years of repayment period, without interest and without repayment in the first 5 years.

The Financial Cooperation Agreement was signed in June 2016.

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Mongolia backs additional financing from IFAD to support herders and poor

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) During yesterday's cabinet meeting, the Government backed to establish an agreement on additional financing of 'Project for Market and pasture management development' between the Government of Mongolia and International Fund for Agricultural Development and decided to send the draft to relevant Standing Committee for its consent.  

The project was implemented in 89 soums of Arkhangai, Bulgan, Gobi-Altai, Khovsgol and Khentii in 2011-2016 and gave support to 120 herders' groups and 455 female-dominated groups. Additional USD9.06 million planned to be spent for poverty reduction and livelihood improvement of poor citizens and herders through creating value chain in aimags and soums involved in the project prior.

Within the project, pasture capacity and grazing will be controlled and evaluated and pastureland will be properly utilized based on social responsibility and joint involvement. Moreover, measures will be taken to increase prices of agricultural raw materials and the project will give financial and non-financial support to groups of herders and women and connect them with buyers and producers.

The additional finance of USD9.06 million has a term of 25 years, including a grace period of  5 years with 1.25 per cent interest and 0.75 per cent service charge.

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Swiss Agency to continue supporting herders for four more years

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ A launching ceremony of Green Gold and Animal Health Project consolidation was held on February 2 with a meeting of national processing enterprises and herders 'cooperatives.

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has implemented 'Green gold' project in 2013-2016 and 'Animal health' project in 2012-2015. The Agency plans to implement the consolidated project between 2017-2020 with aims to strengthen and enhance good practices of sustainable rangeland management, marketing of livestock products and improved animal health in order to contribute to improved livelihood of herder's households.

The SDC intends to secure and end its investments in the livestock sector in Mongolia by increasing sustainability of herders' organisations and by ensuring institutionalisation of sustainable rangeland management and improved animal health systems.

During the meeting, the delegates of processing industries and herders discussed how to supply quality animal-originated raw materials including skins and meat and how to increase the value of raw materials through meeting standards as well as export possibilities. 13 industries made  a preliminary agreement with some cooperatives to buy some raw materials of MNT8.7 billion, including wool, cashmere of sheep, camel and yak.

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Two bills concerning herders' pension and social insurance approved

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ During its session on February 2, Parliament held a final discussion and approved two bills submitted by Member of Parliament S.Chinzorig. 

The first revised bill on Pensions and Benefits allotted from social insurance fund was formulated in compliance with Mongolian People's Party's action plan for the 2016 Elections, including provisions such as 'maternity benefit will be calculated regardless of the type of insurance', 'legal environment will be created for no discontinuation of social insurance fee for mothers on maternity leave for up to three years', 'mothers' working years will be added by 1.6 year per child', and 'retirement age of herders will be advanced by 5 years'. In other words, these provisions have been legalized.

In accordance with the law, male herders who worked for 20 years, 15 years of which were spent on animal husbandry will retire at the age 55, and female herders who worked for 20 years, 12 years and 6 months of which were spent on animal husbandry will retire at the age 50.

The current law allows herders to retire at the ages 60 and 55. The newly adopted law will come into effect on January 1, 2018.

The second bill allows herders and self-employed citizens to deposit pension insurance fees they weren't able to deposit between 1995 and 2000.

In 2012, an act concerning work years and pension insurance fee was adopted, and legalized that the time period between 1990-1995 would be counted as work years for those who weren't and weren't able to be employed during that time, and also that pension insurance fees of the time period 1995-2000 can be deposited. However, it was seen that herders weren't fully included in this service, therefore, Member of Parliament S.Chinzorig submitted this bill to the Parliament.

With adoption of the law, about 491 thousand people can deposit their pension insurance fees they couldn't deposit between 1995 and 2000; and if all herders and self-employed citizens submit their fees, MNT 566.4 billion can be collected to social insurance fund. The law will take effect on January 1, 2018.

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Amounts of exports and imports of strategic food defined

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) Today, the National council on Food Security held its first meeting, defining the exports and imports' amount of strategic food in 2017. A total of 38 thousand tons of beef and 20 thousand tons of horse meat will be exported.

The council considered it proper not to set limitation on exports of mutton and goat meat. Moreover, 15 tons of wheat flour and 10 tons of wheat will be exported.

500 tons of beef, 4240 tons of dried milk and 10 thousand tons of wheat seed will be imported, but milk imports will not be allowed in liquid form.

Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light industry, Professional Inspection Agency and General Customs Office were instructed to immediately arrange all necessary measures to export factory-prepared meat and support the exporting companies.

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Mongolia's bumpy journey to independence

Former satellite state was long at the mercy of Russia and China

by KENJI KAWASE, Nikkei deputy editor

HONG KONG, February 2 (Nikkei Asian Review) Once the master of the Eurasian continent, controlling a fourth of the global land mass at its zenith, Mongolia was at the mercy of its powerful neighbors Russia and China in more recent times.

Mongolia declared independence from its Qing dynasty overlords on Dec. 1, 1911. The announcement came shortly after the Xinhai Revolution erupted, an event that ended the dynasty once and for all the following year. Led by Bogd Khan, a spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Mongolians sought to wrench themselves free from over 200 years of Chinese rule. The new government wanted to create a "greater Mongolia" that included the Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia.

Khan's move was backed by Russia, which saw strategic value in an independent Mongolia. But the "independence" was soon downgraded to autonomy under the suzerainty of China at a tripartite agreement signed in 1915. The new government in Beijing laid claim to the Mongolian territory and counted the Mongolians as one of the five major races that made up its new republic. The Russians obtained "special status" in Mongolia, though -- under a deal with China -- Russia did not recognize its independence.

Mongolian aspirations for "unification" were shattered when Russia cut a deal with Japan to acknowledge the latter's "special interests" in Inner Mongolia. Then came the chaos and confusion of the Russian Revolution in 1917, opening the door for China to invade in 1919.

SATELLITE STATE 

It was the Soviets who drove out the Chinese in 1921. An independent constitutional monarchy under Bogd Khan was installed. After his death in 1924, Mongolia became Asia's first socialist country. The landlocked country became a loyal satellite of Moscow, pursuing one-party rule and serving as a member of the Comecon Eastern-bloc economic arrangement and participating in the Warsaw Pact military treaty as an observer.

It was not until 1946 that China recognized Mongolia's independence, based on a treaty signed with the Soviets in August 1945. However, China's Nationalist government, which fled to Taiwan in 1949, dropped such recognition in 1953, claiming the Soviets had breached the 1945 pact. In 1955, when the Soviet Union lobbied for Mongolia's membership in the United Nations, Taiwan vetoed the application. Only decades later, in the early 2000s, did Taiwan officially recognize Mongolia as independent from China.

Communist China recognized Mongolia immediately after claiming victory over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in October 1949. At the time, Beijing looked upon Moscow as its older socialist brother. But the bilateral relationship grew strained when Mongolia took sides against China during the Sino-Soviet split that began in the early 1960s. The Soviets deployed a massive number of troops along Mongolia's border with China.

SET FREE 

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought democratization to Mongolia, breaking the country free of Soviet control and resulting in the full withdrawal of Russian troops by 1992.

Eventually, the country gained full political and diplomatic independence from its northern neighbor. But that independence came at the same time as the collapse of the Moscow-led Comecon economic system, which led to Mongolia depending economically on China, a nation that has since grown into a powerhouse on many fronts.

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Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa: 'Parasites' turning Mongolian democracy into cash cow

Prominent critic derides decades of corruption by country's leaders

February 2 (Nikkei Asian Review) After the 1990 democratic revolution, we Mongolians thought we were successfully replacing a centrally planned economy governed by a single-party authoritarian regime with a functioning multiparty democracy and a fair market economy.

But Mongolia today does not look quite like a fully functioning democracy or a fully functioning market economy.

In a market economy, private businesses are the key to economic development, not the government. Livelihoods are improved by the people themselves, not by the government. The government's duty is to provide equal opportunities to, and protect rights and assets of, businesses and people.

However, our government is too directly involved in economic activities and is imposing controls on markets for goods and services. The number of state-owned companies, created by politicians and their cronies to serve their own economic interests, continues to rise, and their debts and losses end up being paid with public money.

The government is now increasingly controlling prices for basic consumer items, such as gasoline, electricity and meat. It subsidizes mortgages, thus distorting the financial industry.

Our political parties, which come to power through democratic elections, serve the interests of a few special groups rather than those of the broad public. Such poor governance leads to inefficient resource allocation and utilization, making economic recession seem almost like a constant occurrence in Mongolia.

TAKEOVER STRATEGY 

In his book "From Totalitarianism to Defective Democracy," Michal Klima, professor at Metropolitan University Prague, wrote about the "captured state" phenomenon in post-communist Eastern European countries. A weak civic society and blind obedience to political leaders, he wrote, tend to create a lack of self-discipline and checks and balances within government institutions. Eventually, opaque businesses "capture" the state by gaining control of government leaders and organizations, as well as political parties.

These business interests end up making decisions in lieu of the legislature and the government, leading to what Klima called a "defective democracy."

In Mongolia, all of the political parties -- including the largest two, the Mongolian People's Party and the Democratic Party -- have already been effectively taken over by business interests controlled by party leaders. Thus these businesses profit directly from leaders' official political activities.

The businesses run by these political leaders are flourishing -- and they are capturing the state. As soon as they are elected, politicians instantly forget their promises to voters and start appointing their allies and relatives to government posts. Sometimes they even create new ministries and departments to provide jobs for their cronies.

Political party leaders collect funds in the guise of "donations" and hold most of them in personal accounts. In return, they reward those donors in various ways, such as appointing them to government positions or manipulating public-project tenders.

Once a party wins an election and forms a government, party members themselves obtain leading government positions as well. This puts them in a position where they are able to directly steal public funds. A number of billionaires are born from the government.

And if internal sources of funds dry up, those government parasites turn to international loans by inventing pipe-dream projects. They then embezzle funds by manipulating the regulatory bodies that are supposed to oversee the handling of such projects.

Mongolia's judiciary branch is also controlled by political party leaders, so even if corruption is discovered, the damage to public finances is never redressed. Culprits are handed jail sentences of just a few years and are issued pardons soon after.

The government is providing funds for these parasites instead of investing in more socially important areas. And the government intervenes in the economy because the parasites want to benefit from that intervention.

Mongolia will not be able to overcome its economic decline without making public governance transparent and implementing structural changes that allow the market to set prices.

Many Mongolians agree that the root cause of the problem, a defective democracy run by business politicians, must be fixed before the economy picks up and livelihoods improve. There are still no signs that such a fix is coming. We are facing a real risk of wasting another 25 years without meaningful development, as the more capable and educated of our people continue abandoning the country to live better lives abroad.

Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa, also known as Jargal Defacto, is an independent current-affairs critic, newspaper columnist and TV news host based in Ulaanbaatar.

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Defacto Interview: Abu Kassim bin Mohamed, Board Member, International Anti-Corruption Academy

January 20 (Jargal Defacto) --

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Defacto Interview: Shervin Majlessi, Senior Legal Advisor, Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative

January 28 (Jargal Defacto) --

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Jargal Defacto: Erdenet's 49 percent stake is private ownership

By Jargal "Defacto" Dambadarjaa

February 5 (UB Post) In a democracy with a free market, the government is accountable for protecting public safety, human rights, and rights to personal property. Government institutions exist to allow this duty to be fulfilled, and the people directly select those who lead these institutions through elections.

Mongolians have been attempting to form a government that fulfills this duty for 26 years. Property can be private or public. The government must protect both private and public property, and not allow others – or itself – to cause damage or harm to what it is entrusted with protecting. However, the Standing Committee on State Property proposed on January 24, 2017, to invalidate Government Resolution No.330, dated June 13, 2016, to transfer 49 percent of Erdenet Mining Corporation and Mongolrostsvetmet LLC to state ownership, and have these plants operate as "100 percent state-owned companies".

Mongolian Copper Corporation, which is a privately-owned Mongolian company, reached an agreement with Russia's state-owned Rostec to purchase one of its assets. This deal was concluded with the owners finalizing agreements and payments. If this asset is seized by the state, it would mean that the government is refraining from following the basic principles of the free market, which will send an alarming message to foreign investors.

It would be different if Mongolian Copper Corporation voluntarily transferred its shares and the proper transactions were carried out. This would be another legitimate deal, with all parties reaching an agreement. This possibility still exists, and we can see that from the conclusions drawn by the parliamentary standing committee working group.

FINANCING QUESTIONS

The working group's findings show that when purchasing the 49 percent stake in Erdenet Mining Corporation and Mongolrostsvetment, Mongolian Copper Corporation transferred 400.27 million USD in three transactions to Alfa Bank in Russia from a Trade and Development Bank (TDB) account. The findings also include how this money was first collected by Mongolian Copper Corporation:

1.    1. An initial 112 billion MNT from Ts.Purevtuvshin, who fully owns Mongolian Copper Corporation, was transferred from his personal account at Ulaanbaatar City Bank to the Mongolian Copper Corporation's equity fund on June 14, 2016.

2.    On June 20, 2016, 75 million USD was borrowed from TDB, using "future revenue sources" as collateral.

3.    QSC Company provided a loan of 62.9 million USD on June 17, 2016. This company belongs to D.Erdenebileg, TDB's owner. N.Zoljargal, who used to work for TDB and later became President of Mongol Bank, illegally granted QSC Company 100 billion MNT on November 28, 2014; another 100 billion MNT on April 6, 2016; and 160 billion MNT on June 28, 2016. These grants add up to 360 billion MNT. The reason these transactions are considered "illegal" is that Mongol Bank does not have the right to grant loans to an economic entity without government approval. Only commercial banks can have such relations with the central bank.

4.    Riverstone Properties, fully-owned by Ts.Purevtuvshin, agreed to provide a loan of 70 million USD on June 17, 2016. The findings show that, on the same day, Riverstone Properties received a loan of 70 million USD from TDB.

5.    United Energy Systems (UES) granted Mongolian Copper Corporation a loan of 68 million USD on June 14, 2016. This company is owned by D.Erdenebileg, who is also the owner of TDB. Simultaneously, UES received a loan of 68 million USD from TDB to invest in a project to build a power plant in the South Gobi. There is no evidence that the project exists.

6.    Kinetic Company, which is registered in Singapore, provided a loan of 68 million USD on June 17, 2016. This same company borrowed 68 million USD from TDB, using copper concentrate to be purchased from Erdenet Mining Corporation as collateral, on June 16, 2016.

So these six loans add up to the 400 million USD required to finance the purchase of EMC shares, and 346 million USD in loans to five different companies were financed by TDB in a single day. These loan agreements were all written up in the same way, with only the borrower's name changed, and did not require any existing collateral or guarantees. D.Erdenebileg owns 93 percent of TDB and 99.1 percent of Ulaanbaatar City Bank.

WHO OWNS THESE SHARES?

It is clear that the 400 million USD used to purchase the contested shares of Erdenet Mining Corporation and Mongolrostsvetment came from artificially structured sources: 56 million USD from Ulaanbaatar City Bank and 354 million USD came from TDB, not six different entities. Can commercial banks operate this way? The key question here is whether or not they have broken the law, and the key issue today is not about the share purchase, but revolves around whether or not the owners of bank used the private and public funds held by their banks to their own advantage.

The State Property working group led by MP Sh.Radnaased, head of the parliamentary standing committee, believes that the law was broken.

TDB's primary shareholder, Ts.Purevtuvshin, and the key executives who report directly to him have been registering a number of businesses in their names since 2011, and have illegally privatized state-owned companies, established concession agreements, and made purchases. To do so, they used TDB's funds, loans that were guaranteed by the government, and funds that were illegally granted by Mongol Bank.

The Banking Law of Mongolia was broken. TDB's own assets are estimated to be 745 billion MNT. However, in order to purchase 49 percent of Erdenet Mining Corporation and Mongolrostsvetment, they issued 900 billion MNT in loans. This amount exceeds the commitment of the primary shareholder. TDB cannot legally grant a loan that exceeds 20 percent of its own assets to a single borrower, which means they cannot offer a loan of more than 146 billion MNT (70 million USD). Therefore, they granted loans to several companies (established under different names by the bank's associates) and sent the money to Mongolian Copper Corporation from different accounts.

Since assuming control of Erdenet Mining Corporation on June 27, 2016, Mongolian Copper Corporation has received 47.1 million USD in 2012 dividends, 8.6 million USD in 2013 dividends, 2.6 million USD for an advance payment, 17 billion MNT for QSC Company contract payment, and 2.7 billion MNT for Khutul Cement and Lime Plant. This adds up to approximately 67 million USD.

The parliamentary working group also concluded that TDB had, in its own accounts, 160 billion MNT from Development Bank of Mongolia (3.7 billion JPY from Samurai Bonds) and 360 billion MNT illegally borrowed from Mongol Bank, used Chinggis Bond financing to grant 84 billion MNT and 137 billion MNT to Khutul Cement and Lime Plant and Darkhan Metallurgical Plant respectively, and gave 90 million USD to QSC Company for road construction. In other words, the working group believes that a total of 700 billion MNT in  public funds have been mismanaged by TDB.

These numbers show the public that our economic decline traces back to our politics. Of course, our economy would end up in decline and the value of our currency would weaken when our central bank and our biggest commercial bank have been operating this way. It begs the question, how reliable are our commercial banks? Do they all look good from the outside, while actually being terrible on the inside? Are there any guarantees for the savings of our people? What changed after Mongol Bank acquired a new president? The current Speaker of Parliament, M.Enkhbold, who was the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar when Ulaanbaatar City Bank was established, knows very well that the bank was established using public funds. When and how did 99 percent of the shares of this bank end up being held by a single individual? The people demand that the government answers these and many other questions today.

The people are waiting for the government to act swiftly, to determine right from wrong, and restore justice. Or, will these cases just disappear like others have because the government's leaders are overly dependent on these large banks, their donations, and their support?

Change is unlikely to come before the presidential election. But, what will happen after the election? Will our new president pardon criminals, let cases disappear, and have the people bear the burden, as usual? Or, will we get lucky and see commodity prices rise, see our economy revived, forget about these cases by the summer (just like we forget about the smog), and stay cheerful until the next crisis hits?

Translated by B.Amar

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AmCham Daily Newswire for February 2, 2017

GOVERNMENT

Fiscal Standing Committee convenes to discuss the Law on Exemption of Customs Duty

Summary: Parliament's Fiscal Standing Committee held its final hearing on amendments to the Law on Exemption of Customs Duty and voted in support of them. The committee members also supported amendments to additional laws in compliance with the proposed revisions for the Law on Exemption of Customs Duty, which will also be sent to Parliament. The committee also held a final hearing for amendments to the Law on Corporate Income Tax, and members discussed which sectors should be allowed tax breaks. MP D. Togtokhsuren noted that the proposed amendments cover nine sectors and the inclusion of additional sectors should be discussed further in the fall. He recommended supporting the original draft of the amendments proposed by Cabinet. The amendments were supported and will be submitted to Parliament. Following the committee's first hearing for amendments to the Law on Government Special Funds, the amendments and proposed changes to related laws were supported.

Keywords: legal reform, Parliament, taxes | Daily News /page 11/


Minister of Environment, Green Development and Tourism introduces measures to develop tourism

Summary: During a meeting of the Economic Standing Committee, the Minister of Environment, Green Development and Tourism D. Oyunkhorol introduced measures to further develop the tourism sector. The Minister noted that in 2016, Mongolia welcomed 404,000 tourists, contributing 312 million USD to the economy.  There are 54,000 employees in the tourism sector, making up 4.8% of the labor force, and the ministry is currently researching the possibility of granting foreign visitors a 2-week visa free stay to increase tourism. The ministry is also working to create a legal framework for establishing casinos, and believes that casinos could contribute 118 billion MNT in taxes annually and 80 billion MNT every 10 years through special licenses. The Minister also noted that a working group has been established to create a legal framework for legalized gambling for horse racing. The Minister announced plans to build a visitors complex at the sand dunes with the most tourists and that financing for carrying out a feasibility study is included in the ministry's budget.

Keywords: tourism, Ministry of Environment | The Official Gazette /page 2/


ECONOMY

Cabinet votes for committee review of the World Bank's General Funding Program

Summary: The Cabinet voted for a parliamentary standing committee review of the draft of the General Funding Program agreement between the Government of Mongolia and International Development Association of the World Bank. The program notes the sources of the 70 million USD in loans granted by the IDA from 2015-2017. The IDA funds are to be used to support employment, strengthen the legal environment for macroeconomics and the financial sector, improve energy distribution, and meet the energy demands of the western region with renewable energy. Every three years, International Development Association provides finances to its members and decides which programs should receive financial support.

Keywords: World Bank, Parliament, Cabinet | National Post /page 2/


ONLINE STORY

Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi researches opportunities for an IPO

Summary: Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi announced that they are researching the possibility of releasing stock through the Mongolian Stock Exchange and releasing an IPO through international stock exchanges. Last December, the first draft of an IPO plan was introduced to the Ministry of Finance, and it was determined that 9-12 months would be required for preparatory work. The company says it requires around 300-400 million USD in financing for the construction of an enrichment plant, a water project, road construction, and geological surveys. Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi is researching the possibility of bringing international investors to the Mongolian Stock Exchange to raise the required capital.

Keywords: Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, investment, IPO | www.bloombergtv.mn

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AmCham Daily Newswire for February 3, 2017

GOVERNMENT

National Council on Food Safety led by the Prime Minister convenes

Summary: The National Council on Food Safety, led by the Prime Minister, convened for the first time to discuss strategic goals for the export and import of food products and to establish recommendations based on the council members' input. The council set a target for the export of 38,000 tons of beef and 20,000 tons of horse meat and did not place limits on the export of mutton and goat meat. In addition, the council recommended that 15,000 tons of flour and 10,000 tons of wheat should be exported, and 500 tons of beef, 4,240 tons of powdered milk, and 10,000 tons of wheat seed should be imported.  The members agreed that the import of milk should be avoided. The General Agency for Specialized Inspection, Mongolian Customs, and Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry will oversee preparations to export meat and support the companies pursuing export.

Keywords: PM, food safety, exports | The National Post /page 1/


Economic Standing Committee convenes to discuss a revised bill on Development Bank

Summary: The Economic Standing Committee convened and held the first hearing for a revised bill on Development Bank. The bill's working group informed the committee members that negotiations between the IMF and the Government of Mongolia include making changes to the operations of Development Bank. Analysts say that Development Bank's operations should be fully independent from the state budget and that a stronger legal framework is needed to stop the bank's state financing. The State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, B. Nyamaa, noted that negotiations with the IMF are still in progress, and that after receiving votes from the committee's members on revisions to the bill, the bill will be submitted to Parliament for further discussion.

Keywords: Development Bank, Parliament | The Century News /page 2/


ECONOMY

Minister of Finance predicts IMF negotiations will conclude by next week

Summary: Minister of Finance B. Choijulsuren stated, "The negotiations with the IMF will finish by next week. Our main priority is to have debt sustainability, and we are currently discussing ways to repay the 580 million USD. By next week, it will become clear if Mongolia will partake in an IMF program. The situation will be dire without an IMF program. If Mongolia participates in one of the IMF's programs, Mongolia needs to make amendments to certain laws, and the details of the negotiation are still in progress."

Keywords: IMF, Ministry of Finance | Daily News /page 1, 2/


ONLINE STORY

Businesses in four sectors to receive a 90% tax break

Summary: Parliament approved amendments to the Law on Corporate Income Tax. The amendments were aimed at supporting SMEs, reducing tax burdens for businesses, increasing investment, and creating the opportunity for growth. A 90% tax break will be available to SMEs with less than 1.5 billion MNT in sales working in food production, the clothing and textiles industry, the production of construction materials, and in the agriculture and livestock industries. The SMEs will be eligible to pay a 1% tax on business conducted from January 1, 2017, to January 1, 2021. The government believes that this will reduce the tax burden for SMEs, create a favorable environment for increasing employment, result in increased investment, and increase the number of SMEs.

Keywords: taxes, Parliament, SMEs | www.ikon.mn

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Business

Income tax lowered to 1% for SMEs in four sectors

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj made a statement on national security issue at the plenary meeting of the State Great Khural held on February 2. The statement was heard behind closed doors. The Parliament discussed the bill on revenue and expenditure of the National Treasury Fund under closed regime.

After the session transferred into an open regime, the parliament passed seven legal documents on final readings.

One of the bills passed were the amendments to the Entities' Income Tax Law. The amendments suggested changes in favor of the companies, which are engaged in productions of food, clothing, construction materials and agricultural products and has annual sales income of less than MNT 1.5 billion. The entities that fall under the category will enjoy only 1 percent income tax between January 1 of 2017 and January 1 of 2021. In this way, the income tax rate is being cut by 90 percent.

The country's economic growth has been slowing down and the unemployment rate has been increasing in the recent years. The majority of registered companies in Mongolia are running small and medium scale businesses.

The revised bill is expected to alleviate their tax burden and enable them to increase their investment, in order to accelerate the economic growth and reduce unemployment. 

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Parliament exempts SMEs from customs duty on equipment

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ During its session on February 2, Parliament adopted a revised bill on Customs duty.

In order to increase employment by promoting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and support manufacturing of products to replace import and increase export, the Mongolian Parliament adopted an act on exemption of customs duty for equipments imported the designated use of SMEs in June 2014.

To enforce the act, Cabinet issued a resolution within that year, finalizing a list of equipments and production tools to be exempted from customs duty and value-added tax. Though the resolution exempted 618 equipments of 31 types from customs duty, the exemption regulation ended on December 31, 2016.

As many requests have been forwarded by businesses to extend the regulation, 8 Members of Parliament formulated the bill. The Parliament thus voted up the bill on exemption of customs duty.

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Regulation on liquor production licensing to be renewed

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) Over the last 3 months, 9 people died and 15 were poisoned with technical and drinking spirit-based products in Dornod aimag and in the capital. As professional inspection agency surveyed that the rates of production and service with alcoholic drinks are extremely high.

For example, soum centers have at least 20 service points where alcoholic beverage is traded or served. The Government discussed this issue yesterday and instructed relevant ministries to conduct examination on the certification of alcoholic drink producers within this year and introduce the result to the Cabinet meeting.

Moreover, relevant official were instructed to renew 'Regulation on issuance of certificate to trade and service with alcoholic beverage', make tags and trademark of imported technical and drinking spirit-based products that meet international standards and control services and trades of this kind of products.

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Ulaanbaatar

Traffic restrictions adjusted for Tsagaan Sar

February 5 (UB Post) The Ulaanbaatar Traffic Police Department (UTPD) changed the license plate restriction to reduce heightened traffic congestion during Tsagaan Sar.

Head of the UTPD Traffic Coordinating Committee B.Batbold introduced a new directive on the changes to traffic restrictions on February 1. He explained that traffic movement near large markets and trade centers escalates every year before Tsagaan Sar, as people from across the country come to the city for necessities for the celebration preparation. This year, Tsagaan Sar will start on February 28.

"Only vehicles with license plates ending with an even number can drive in Ulaanbaatar on Saturdays – February 11 and 18 – and those ending with an odd number can drive on Sun-
days – February 12 and 19. To reduce traffic load at large markets and trade centers, trade fairs will be organized for meat and dairy products in six districts. This will prevent heav congestions near large trade centers and markets, save time, save fuel and enable customers to shop comfortably," B.Batbold stated.

The UTPD says it will increase the number of traffic police officers on duty by reassigning some public order trained officers to traffic management duties.

License restriction to be lifted during Tsagaan Sar

According to the new directive, license restrictions will not apply on the first three days of Tsagaan Sar, from February 28 to 30.

The UTPD advised drivers from rural areas to manage the time they enter the city to avoid penalty and reminded that Sapporo and Tavan Shar intersections have seen included in the winter license restriction zone.

Traffic police officers have also changed the two-way road near Khuchit Shonkhor Trade Center into a one-way road to moderate traffic overload. Drivers can only drive east from the southeastern road of the center to Dalan intersection, and from Dalan intersection to the intersection outside of Sundalt Center.

Residents living in suburbs can use public transportations to go to Narantuul, Denjiin Myanga and Khuchit Shonkhor Trade Centers during the weekends.

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Smart parking project to be implemented with Dutch company

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) On February 1, P.Bayarkhuu, Deputy Mayor in charge of infrastructure and Ger district area development and Paul Staartjes, Director of Advisory Board of "Wasys" company of the Netherlands signed a memorandum of cooperation.

In the scope of the memorandum, the sides will cooperate to introduce advanced technologies and best management solutions to the public transport and auto road sector of Ulaanbaatar city. The document is designed for putting a new solution of car parking into practice in order to reduce traffic jam.

After signing the memorandum, Deputy Mayor P.Bayarkhuu said "Within the framework of the memorandum, the Governor's Office of Ulaanbaatar is planning to implement a smart parking project in Ulaanbaatar city. The corresponding working group will be established and project is soon to be implemented".

Mr. Paul Staartjes expressed his confidence that the development works in Ulaanbaatar will be successful.

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Mongolians Seek Action on Pollution Amid Smog Crisis

February 6 (Bloomberg TV) Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar isn't just the world's coldest capital. During the winter it is also one of the most polluted. And with its economy struggling, many are concerned it's not only affecting people's health but will also turn away outside investors. Bloomberg TV Mongolia's Dulamkhorloo Baatar has more.

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Ecological Situation In Mongolia Affects National Security

21 January 2017. PenzaNews. Mongolia's air pollution has reached the point of affecting the country and city's national security, says Samantha Brletich, a freelance writer and researcher on the region of Central Asia, in her article "Mongolia's new approach to curb air pollution" published in foreign Media. 

"Roughly half of Mongolia's 2.8 million population lives in Ulan Bator. […] In December 2016, Ulan Bator's air quality registered five times as worse as Beijing's and is 80 times more than recommended levels by the World Health Organization," the article says.

According to the author, Ulan Bator has seen an increase in pollution from coal burning furnaces and motor vehicles.

"Mongolia's harsh winters require residents and businesses to burn coal. […] Mongolia's Gers (yurts) dwellings contribute to air pollution as they are on the outskirts of the city, use coal furnaces for heat, and are not connected to the city-level infrastructure," the analyst says.

Almost 60% of Ulan Bator residents live in ger settlements, which became a popular form of housing for migrants as housing prices in Mongolia have peaked in recent years, she says.

At the same time Samantha Brletich stresses that Mongolia's "Ulaanbaatar 2020 Master Plan and Development Approaches for 2030" outlined several changes which involve the creation of the central area, middle area, and fringe area connecting the central area to the grid and the middle area partially to the grid; the fringe area, where Gers are located, will be replaced by private housing or low-rise buildings with self-sustaining utilities.

"Three decrees will be presented at Mongolia's National Security Council meeting. The Restriction Action decree states 'rural residents, excluding those who require long-term medical care, those who already own an apartment, and those who have a mortgage loan, will be restricted from taking up residence in Ulaanbaatar'," the researcher says.

Meanwhile, the two other decrees, rooted in urban planning, will divide the city into zones including the establishment of 'eco areas' and the establishment of air pollution zones with the regulation what buildings and dwellings can use what energy source to produce heat, she adds.

"The Ulan Bator city government, prior to the three decrees, implemented regulations to curb air pollution. To decrease vehicular traffic restrictions were placed on vehicles based on license plates' numbers determining what days residents can drive their vehicles. The result would be less congestion, shorter commutes leading to less road time, and less vehicle emissions," the author says.

Moreover, the expert stresses that a working group tasked with lowering air pollution has been working since June 2016 to develop a national approach.

"The government of Mongolia already passed the National Action Program on Climate Change, Mongolian Environmental Action Plan, and the Action Program to Protect Air Quality," Samantha Brletich reminds.

In her opinion, the power plant outside of Ulan Bator will assist the city in reaching its electricity-output goals and curbing air pollution.

"The Engie group will operate the plant, a combined heat and power facility called CHP5, for 25 years and will add to the Newcom's 50-megawatt Salkhit wind farm built in 2013," the analyst says.

At the same time, she stresses that Ulan Bator stretching over long distances, lacks a comprehensive public transportation system: there is only a rapid bus system financed by the Asia Development Bank.

"According to Mongolia Media, metro stations will be completed by 2020. An underground metro system is required because of population growth and would aid Ulan Bator in becoming a 'compact city' and a green eco-city. The Ulan Bator (Ulanbataar) Clean Air Project, funded and approved by the World Bank in 2012, 'is to enable consumers in Ger areas to access heating appliances producing less particulate matter emissions' and develop particulate matter reduction measures in Ulaanbaatar," the expert says.

According to her, previously the country has also actively participated in international initiatives aimed at improving the environmental situation.

"Mongolia signed the 2015 Paris Agreement and joined the Kyoto Protocol in 1999. Mongolia strives to meet Paris Agreement standards by curbing greenhouse gases and pollution by utilizing methodologies developed under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism. Mongolia submitted its climate change action plan to the UNFCCC in September 2015," the author reminds.

Meanwhile, according to her, multiple international organizations including UNICEF and the World Health Organization still warn Mongolia against the adverse effects of heavy smog and pollution.

"The country would benefit from a pollution management system. Strengthening Mongolia's electric system, diversifying energy resources, and transportation options will also increase air quality and benefit Mongolia economically," Samantha Brletich believes.

From her point of view, rural to urban migration is impacting air pollution beyond seasonal migration or service-based migration—seeking medical services and employment.

"To control migration, Mongolia may expand of Ulan Bator, encourage settlement in peripheral cities, and develop rural areas which have been under stress since the 1990 reforms impacting agriculture," the author sums up.

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Recommendation of the National Security Council of Mongolia on air pollution

February 3 (GoGo Mongolia) The National Security Council of Mongolia have discussed on "Air and Environmental Pollution in the Capital City" upon hearing the presentation made by J.Erdenebat, Prime Minister of Mongolia, and the additional information provided by S.Batbold, Governor of Capital City and Mayor of Ulaanbaatar City and recommends the following;

To the State Great Khural (Parliament) of Mongolia:

1.    To acknowledge that air, water, soil pollution has reached disaster levels, and to make necessary amendments to the relative legislation to improve the legal environment for operating in a state of emergency and establishing disaster zone, quarantine measures, population resettlement, rehabilitation and urban re-planning;

2.    To create the legal environment to implement the relocation of central government bodies, the railway, universities and related infrastructures;

3.    To create the legal environment for establishing a duties and accountability system of all government bodies, officials in charge, business enterprises and citizens to implement relative laws and to reduce air and environmental pollution;

4.    To provide the necessary legal environment for ensuring participation and cooperation of citizens and enterprises in reducing environmental pollution;

5.    To discuss on air and environmental pollution upon including the issue in agenda of every parliamentary session, and when necessary, upon convening extraordinary sessions;

6.    To hold an extraordinary session in the first quarter of the 2017 to discuss the sections 1-4 of this recommendation and to finalize the National plan on air and environmental pollution reduction.

To the Government of Mongolia:

1.    To submit to the State Great Khural (Parliament) of Mongolia draft laws and rulings as stated in 1-4 of this recommendation as well as draft National plan by February 20, 2017;

2.    To develop a detailed executive plan for the National plan on air and environmental pollution reduction with a clear designation of organizations and officials in charge, time frames and financial resources;

3.    To reorganize the National Committee for Air Pollution Reduction (to be renamed as National Emergency Committee for Reducing Environmental Pollution) and to operate in emergency principles;

4.    To hold quarterly Cabinet meetings to discuss air and environmental pollution, when necessary to hold special meetings.

To the Citizen's Representative Khurals of Aimags and the Capital City (Local Parliaments):

1.    To discuss local environmental pollution issues at Citizen's Representative Khurals of aimags and the Capital City and to develop and implement special plans;

2.    To call upon all enterprises, organizations and individuals to actively participate and cooperate in environmental pollution reduction.

To the Secretary of the National Security Council:

1.    To summarize the proposals made during the extended meeting of the National Security Council to be delivered to the Cabinet Secretariat of the Government for inclusion in the National plan for air and environmental pollution reduction;

2.    To oversee the implementation of the recommendations issued by the National Security Council on environmental pollution. 

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ACMS Speaker Series: Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar, Ger Community Mapping Center, February 7

DETAILS

Date: February 7

Time: 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

VENUE

American Corner, Ulaanbaatar Public Library

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia + Google Map

Phone:

976 7711-0486

Better decision-making through community mapping in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, capital city of Mongolia is home to almost half of the country's population, in which more than 60% live in the ger area. Centralized administrative power, rapid urbanization, economic and political instability calls for a stronger civil society with a vision for long-term, sustainable, and inclusive development. Ger Community Mapping Center sees community mapping as one of the tools to inform and  empower local communities and the general public to promote participatory decision-making. Community mapping draws on the implicit knowledge within local communities on everyday issues with long-term consequences.  

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Diplomacy

45th anniversary of Mongolia-Australia diplomatic relations to be marked this year

Ulaanbaatar, February 4 /MONTSAME/ 45 years ago, on September 15, 1972, Australia's then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam established diplomatic relations with Mongolia; thus 2017 marks the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and Australia.

The Australian Embassy in Ulaanbaatar hosted an Australian National Day reception on Friday, February 3 to celebrate the birth of Australia and Australia's partnership with Mongolia. Attended by about 300 guests including heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Mongolia, diplomats, members of Mongolia-Australia Society or 'Mozzies' and Australian volunteers in Mongolia, the ceremony began with the state anthems of both countries.

"This is the first Australian National Day I have hosted in Mongolia as the first resident Ambassador. And this is a very important year for us as it marks the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Mongolia.  We have much to celebrate", said Ambassador of Australia to Mongolia John Langtry.

"We have kept all of our promises to awardees studying in Australia, as well as those selected for the program in Mongolia in rebuilding the Australia Awards scholarship scheme. I am pleased that we will be able to start offering some new scholarships again this year, and that we intend to build on the numbers in the years to come", remarked the Ambassador during his opening speech.

He continued, "Both Australia and Mongolia depend on foreign investment to develop our mining potential, and there is much experience we can share. We will continue to work hard to ensure that the enduring benefits of high-quality Australian investment in Mongolian mining are appreciated at both the national level and in local communities. Our emphasis will be on sustainable economic and social development in technical education, agriculture, public health and best-practice governance in mining. Australian volunteers are making a vital contribution to all of this". Since 1998, over 300 Australian volunteers have worked in Mongolia.

"We are always pleased to take part in the Khaan Quest exercise hosted so capably by the Mongolian Armed Forces; and proud that our soldiers have served together in places like South Sudan and Afghanistan", the Ambassador said.

"We have new governments in both Australia and Mongolia. Both of us are facing big challenges in restructuring and reforming our economies. Australia is pleased to see Mongolia rising to the task of restoring its budget finances and investor confidence", he also noted.

Australia has been assisting Mongolia through an annual AUD 10 million bilateral development program. Education is one of the main two areas of cooperation between Mongolia and Australia. Since 1994, about 500 Mongolians have studied under the Australia Awards Scholarship scheme, creating a vibrant network of alumni. Mongolia- Australia Society or more commonly known as 'Mozzies' (Mongolian Aussies) now united 280 members.

Development researcher Khuldorj Balganjav was one of the first Mongolian students to arrive in Australia in 1994. He recalled, "In the early 1990s, Mongolians knew very little about Australia; and so did Australians about Mongolia. I arrived in Australia on Bituun (Lunar New Year Eve) in 1994, and few Mongolians scattered in several big cities gathered to celebrate Tsagaan Sar that year. That was when we were first discovered by the Australian media. Australians knew of Chinese New Year celebrations, but they didn't know about Mongolia's Tsagaan Sar. So, our little celebration was covered by the media, for the first time distinguishing Mongolian Lunar New Year. Since then, we regularized the Lunar New Year celebration in Australia, and Australians began attending our celebration, eating buuz. Both being agricultural countries, Mongolians and Australians have a lot in common and a lot to talk about. I think, Mongolia and Australia got close in a short amount of time".

Ambassador Langtry also said, "I think Australians and Mongolians get on very well naturally; our countries have many similarities such as same sense of humor and same family values, placing a lot of high value on good education".

As the actual date to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relationship is September 15, he said, "We are still working on the program, we will certainly be doing some cultural events including some music and theater. I am certain that our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would love to visit Mongolia this year. And we are going to open a new Embassy Chancery building".

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This year marks the 45th anniversary of Australia-Mongolia's diplomatic relationsGoGo Mongolia, February 2

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PM proposes establishing FTA with Eurasian Economic Commission

February 5 (UB Post) Valovaya Tatyana Dmitriyevna, Minister and Member of the Board on the Main Areas of Integration and Macroeconomics of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), paid a working visit to Mongolia on February 2-3.

She met with Prime Minister J.Erdenebat on Friday to discuss trade and economic cooperation between Mongolia and the EEC.

During their meeting, the Premier pointed out that Mongolia wants to establish a free-trade agreement between Mongolia and the EEC, and is ready to establish a joint research team to study the possibility of establishing an agreement.

Minister Dmitriyevna noted that she supports the PM's request and that EEC member states have discussed Mongolia's proposal and will respond soon. She stressed that trade and economic cooperation between the two parties have not increased since 2010, so there should be a focus on organizing a business forum for EEC member state entrepreneurs and Mongolian entities looking for partnerships.

The Prime Minister supported her idea to organize a business forum and said that the sides need to schedule the meeting. He highlighted that entrepreneurs from the member states of the EEC have great opportunities to conduct business in Mongolia, because Mongolians like consuming products made in EEC member states, especially Russia.

The PM underlined that the Government of Mongolia is concentrating on developing the agricultural sector and exporting agricultural products to EEC member states, but that challenges have been faced in meeting export standards.

He added that organizing a business forum and establishing a free-trade agreement are of great importance to developing trade and economic cooperation between the two sides.

During Minister Dmitriyevna's meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Ts.MunkhOrgil, both sides agreed to strengthen collaboration in establishing regulations and raising veterinary, sanitation, and quarantine standards between Mongolia and the EEC, and to organize joint training, seminars, and business meetings in Mongolia.

At the end of their meeting, the sides signed a protocol for a second meeting to be held in November 2016 in Moscow, and developing a 2017-2018 action plan for the working groups of the Government of Mongolia and the EEC.

The action plan will include signing documents for cooperation in roads and transportation, mining, agriculture, business, and professional exchanges, and scheduling a roundtable meeting.

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PM proposes integration into Eurasian Economic Unionnews.mn, February 3

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Parliament Speaker receives UK Ambassador

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) Parliament Speaker M.Enkhbold received Catherine Arnold, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom to Mongolia on February 1. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the Parliament Speaker, M.Enkhbold remarked that "Mongolia and the United Kingdom have a long history of cooperation as the latter is the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia".

Emphasizing that the high-level reciprocal visits becomes more regular, the relations between the legislative bodies of the two countries have started developing more consistently, the Parliament Speaker said "Cooperation between the parliaments is crucial in creating more favorable legal environment to resolve the pressing issues of the economy, trade and investment".

After confirming the invitation for John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons to visit Mongolia, the Parliament Speaker has a willingness to expand the mutually beneficial relations with the UK by reassuring the cooperation of the two countries in education, military, mining, energy and information sectors.

He then noted his intention to increase the number of Mongolian students to study in the UK under the scholarship program of the UK government. "Mongolia gives importance to attracting UK investors, importing eco-friendly technologies and learning from the substantial experiences of the UK"

In response to the Parliament Speaker, Ambassador Catherine Arnold expressed her gratitude towards the Speaker for the meeting and a wish to expand bilateral relations.

Catherine Arnold continued "It is possible to broaden the scope of the educational programs, in particular, by improving the English language knowledge of public servants through consecutive trainings. We are capable of enhancing potentials of universities through co-projects and technical supports. Recently, the National University of Mongolia has started cooperating with two UK universities, which laid the groundwork of an effective relations in this area. Also, we're working with the Asian Development Bank on renewable energy project to improve energy supplies in the western region of Mongolia. As for the railroad industry, "Pandrol" company of UK has started manufacturing railway fixtures and ties.

"As UK investors are interested in Mongolia, more information and promotion about Mongolia should be available. We're planning to organize investment-related meeting or forum by sometime this spring in Mongolia. And just a few days ago, the mining representatives from Britain attended the Oyu Tolgoi Supplier Forum and signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry of Mongolia" remarked the Ambassador.

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Speaker receives German Ambassador

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ Parliament Speaker M.Enkhbold receives Stefan Duppel, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany on February 2.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Parliament Speaker, M.Enkhbold remarked on the prospering cooperation of the two countries. "The people of Mongolia are grateful for Germany's support on our society, economy and other sectors ever since the country made a transition to a new social structure" noted the Speaker.

"Cooperation on economy, trade and investment can be broadened, using the opportunities we have. We seek to introduce new advanced technologies from Germany as well as its substantial experiences, for instance in our mining industry. Increasing investment from Germany and bringing joint projects forward are the priorities of cooperation of Mongolia and Germany" he added. 

Moreover, M.Enkhbold said "A large number of German-educated Mongolians are showing success in different fields and we must keep this practice. We have a willingness to increase the number of students to study engineering and technology in Germany. I hope the Ambassador will look into the matter".

In turn, Stefan Duppel said "I am confident that the current active cooperation in the education sector will remain as we are making certain changes on the cooperation outline. We have successfully established the German-Mongolia Institute for Resources and Technology in Nalaikh, Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia is rich in natural resources, but the most important resource is its young people".

"Negotiations on the Mongolian and German development policy are underway and a joint working group is currently working to implement co-projects and to reinforce the relationship between public and private entities. I am delighted to note that we are following expansionary policy when countries across the Europe are pursuing spending cuts" remarked the Ambassador.

"Around hundred German experts are working in the energy and environmental projects in Mongolia. I believe educating Mongolians in Germany and organizing professional trainings for them are essential. Inter-bank cooperation agreement was signed by Mongolia and Germany just last week" the German Ambassador said. Concluding the meeting, Ambassador Stefan Duppel expressed his confidence that mutually beneficial cooperation between Mongolia and German will further develop with success".

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Mongolia FM receives Romanian ambassador on end his term

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) On February 1, Ts.Munkh-Orgil, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia met with Doru Costea, Ambassador of Romania to Mongolia, upon the latter's completion of duties.

Ambassador D.Costea briefly informed about current political and economic situation of Romania and conveyed an invitation of Foreign Minister T.Melescanu to Minister Ts.Munkh-Orgil to pay a visit to Romania.

During the meeting, the both sides expressed their wish to broaden and develop the bilateral relations between Mongolia and Romania into next level by strengthening cooperation in the field of agriculture, education and mining.

The Foreign Minister highlighted the importance of enriching and enhancing trade and economic cooperation and wished success to the Ambassador's future endeavors.

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Poland to open Ulaanbaatar embassy in 2018

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs B.Battsetseg received Ambassador of the Republic of Poland M.Labenda on February 3.

The sides discussed about the organization of the upcoming consultative meeting of the foreign ministries to be held in Ulaanbaatar and signing the intergovernmental credit agreement.

Moreover, the annual scholarship grants allowed from the Polish Government to Mongolian students, as well as a matter of establishing a cooperation agreement between the Warsaw University and the National University of Mongolia on realizing the "2+2+1" double degree program for undergraduate and graduate degree students were touched upon. 

Ambassador Labenda shared that the Polish side has been working to open its embassy in Ulaanbaatar in 2018. 

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Leaders Advancing Democracy-Mongolia Program

Country: Mongolia
Duration: May 2016 to May 2018
Funder: USAID 
Contact:  
Valery.Nadjibe@worldlearning.org

(World Learning) -- USAID's Leaders Advancing Democracy-Mongolia (LEAD) Program is a two-year initiative, which will help build the country's next generation of democratic leaders. Through this cooperative agreement with USAID, World Learning together with its partners International Republican Institute (IRI) and Centre for Citizen Education (CCE) will undertake a variety of leadership programs, international exchanges, and civic education activities. 

The LEAD Program will consist of three important and interconnected activities, which will support promising young leaders to work collaboratively to solve the country's most pressing issues. The program will include a US-Mongolia Emerging Leaders Exchange Program with 90 young leaders from different sectors; a Mongolia Emerging Leaders Alliance, which will connect Mongolian emerging leaders from counterparts in the region and position them as regional leaders; and a civic education curriculum development and citizen engagement component with high school students. 

World Learning, IRI and CEE are honored to partner with USAID on this important initiative to support Mongolia's best and brightest young democracy advocates to realize their vision for positive change in their country. At the conclusion of the LEAD Program, these young up-and-coming leaders will have the requisite skills, knowledge, and networks to engage constructively with and within their government, communities, or other institutions for improved democratic outcomes.

Applications are now being accepted for LEAD-Mongolia. The program is open to applicants between the ages of 25 and 40 who are able to articulate their unique vision for positive democratic development in Mongolia. Applications are due by October 14, 2016.

Detailed information about the program, participant criteria, and instructions for submission are included in the application packet.

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Health & Education

3,000 Harvoni Hep-C drugs to be issued free of charge

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) At its regular meeting on February 1, the Cabinet decided to allocate MNT 354 million for customs and value-added taxes of 3000 boxes of 'Harvoni' drug from government reserve fund in the frameworks of the implementation of 'Healthy Mongolia' program. The USD 928, 110 worth drugs in total are being provided on a non-refundable aid from the US Gilead Sciences Inc.  

Used for treatment of Hepatitis C, the 'Harvoni' drug's 12-week course of therapy costs about USD 94,000. In frames of a project named 'Sufficiency', Mongolia is purchasing the drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. and four Indian manufacturers. In compliance with a Cabinet decision, Health Insurance Fund is offering MNT 210 thousand discount when buying the drug starting from December 2016.

In frames of its social responsibility program, Gilead Sciences Inc. decided to supply free 'Harvoni' drugs to Mongolian Hepatitis C patients aged 45-60 in Arkhangai province. Thus, Health Minister A.Tsogtsetseg was assigned to cover the tax costs from government reserve fund, and take necessary measures in order to ensure the reach of the drugs to Arkhangai residents.

According to relevant studies, there are about 130 thousand Mongolians infected with Hepatitis C, and 52.5 thousand patients who require instant treatment.

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Results of mobile health technology project presented

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ On February 2, the Ministry of Health, WHO Representative Office in Mongolia and Embassy of the Czech Republic to Mongolia co-organized a meeting to introduce the outcome of a project named 'Introduction of Mobile Health Technology at the Primary Healthcare and Community Level in Mongolia'.

The project was implemented in Umnugobi aimag and Songinokhairkhan district, Ulaanbaatar with the funding of KRW 400 million provided by Korean Foundation for International Health and the Community Chest of Korea NGO.

The project aimed to to improve health of the population especially by reaching out to disadvantaged population groups through introducing Mobile Health (mHealth) technology at the primary healthcare and community level within health system strengthening concept.

In the frameworks of the project, the Health Department of Umnugobi province and Health Center of Songinokhairkhan district received vehicles and equipments required for moving medical service such as portable electro-cardiogram, ultrasound and blood pressure measuring equipment and the staff attended workshops to learn how to work on the mobile technologies in the field.

The meeting discussed further opportunities to implement the project in other aimags and districts. Health Minister A.Tsogtsetseg noted the importance of the meeting in looking over the progress of projects that are being co-implemented, and expressed her readiness to cooperate in health sector.

Present at the meeting were representatives of the Ministry of Health, foreign diplomatic missions in Mongolia, WHO and other international organizations.

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Mongolian immunologist's discovery published in Nature Magazine

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ A Mongolian immunologist D.Nyambayar M.D., who works at the RIKEN National Scientific Research Institute of Japan, had his article published in the Nature Magazine. 

He has made a discovery about the development of a natural killer T cell. According to Nature Magazine, his discovery is of vital importance in fundamentally changing and upgrading the immune cell development theories.

D.Nyambayar's discovery might as well become an impetus to sophisticating the immune cell treatment methods for allergy, inflammation, cancer and other immune system diseases. Reportedly, D.Nyambayar has spent more than 10 years of research to make this discovery.

Nyambayar Dashtsoodol graduated the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS) in 2001 and earned master's degree from the Hokkaido National University of Japan in 2006. 

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About 3 thousand people die from cancer a year in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ On the occasion to the World Cancer Day - February 4, the National Cancer Center of Mongolia organized an event to give information on the present situation of cancer disease in Mongolia on February 2. 

The International Association for Fight against Cancer has decided to mark the World Cancer Day under the theme "We can. I can" in 2016-2018. Mongolia has celebrated this day since 2007.

According to the information of the National Cancer Center of Mongolia, around 5 thousand people are diagnosed with cancer every year and 3 thousand of those patients die. Some 70 percent of people with cancer see a doctor when they have already reached the final stage of cancer, which is a serious problem.

In 2015, 5777 people were diagnosed with cancer, 3999 of whom died, showing the increasing number of disease and death rates. The most cancer cases are diagnosed too late.

L.Bayarsaikhan, Deputy Director of Research, Training and Information Department of the National Cancer Center of Mongolia said "Late diagnosis of cancer is an acute problem in Mongolia and cancer treatment and medical care cost high. Cancer diagnosed at a late stage affect to the outcome of the treatment".

He continued "About 40 percent of total cancer cases in Mongolia is liver cancer. In 2016, liver cancer rate accounts for 42.5 percent of all cancer related deaths. In recent rates, the quality of cancer diagnosis has been improved and it is possible to identify cancer caused by viruses at as early as possible. In Mongolia, liver, stomach and cervical cancers are among the most common cancer cases.

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Mongolian students successful at business simulation contest in Dubai

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ On February 3, J.Batsuuri, Minister of Education, Culture and Sciences handed over an award to Mongolian students, who successfully participated in a business simulation competition held Dubai in November 2016. 

A Mongolian team comprised of 15 teachers and students took the third, fourth and fifth places at the competition hosted under the theme "Sales of mobile phones on the international market". In particular, the 'Otgontenger" University was awarded the fifth place, the National University of Mongolia secured team the third and the "Mandakh Burtgel" University was selected the fourth place. The event was participated by 10 universities' team from the United Arab Emirates, Russia, France, Qatar and Mongolia.

During the award presenting event, Minister J.Batsuuri underlined that Mongolian students' successful attendance in the business simulation challenge competition organized by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs shows the competitive knowledge and skills of Mongolian students in the world. 

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Enabling Access to Higher Education in Post-socialist Mongolia: Empirical Results for Implementation and Implications of Government Policies

by Otgonjargal OkhidoiUniversity of Pittsburgh

Abstract

This quantitative study examines the effectiveness of government financial assistance policies in access to higher education in post-socialist Mongolia as of 2012, using probabilistic, cross-sectional Household Social and Economic Survey data. Using a six-subscale composite socioeconomic status (SES) variable, the study examines the effect of SES on government financial assistance, relationship between the State Budget Organization employee status on the assistance and the SES levels. Cross tabulations and multinomial regression models were applied in the analyses. The study reveals that the design and implementation of the policies were not entirely targeted at the poor and marginalized, and demonstrates a rather flattened-out distribution of the limited resource. It demonstrates how the policies reinforced the status quo and favored those who were not the ones with the most needs.

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Culture & Society

People's Revolution leader D.Sukhbaatar's 124th birthday being marked

Ulaanbaatar, February 2 (MONTSAME) Today is marking the 124th birth anniversary of a leader of the fight for freedom and independence of Mongolia D.Sukhbaatar. He was the commander and chief of the People's Militia, which liberated the capital city in 1921 and re-declared the independence of Mongolia.

Every year, as a tradition, Mongolians reminisces the great leader and lay wreaths to his Statue on the central square named after him. This year, on this day, Speaker of Mongolian Parliament and Chairman of Mongolian People's Party M.Enkhbold, Prime Minister J.Erdenebat, Secretary –General of the Mongolian People's Party D.Amarbayasgalan, members of cabinet and the MPP's members laid wreaths to D.Sukhbaatar's statue.

"General Sukhbaatar" photographic exhibition by Researcher O.Baatar opened at the Independence Palace, and the exhibition composing of historic artifacts in connection with D.Sukhbaatar and Kh.Choibalsan is being displayed at the Mongolian National Museum. Also, a ceremony will be held today to lay wreaths at the abandoned site of his home.

Sukhbaatar was born on February 2 of 1893 to an ordinary herdsman Damdin's family. Sukhbaatar helped his family by carrying meat, collecting firewood and working as a mailman. His father Damdin took his son to Duke S.Jamiyan in 1907 and made Sukhbaatar his disciple. While being with S.Jamiyan, D.Sukhbaatar learnt Mongolian script and mathematics.

D.Sukhbaatar served in the army between 1912 and 1918. After this, he started working at the legal document publishing office. In the meantime, he entered into the secret group. He began taking active parts in the group's actions after the Goumindang army of China had ousted Mongolia's military authorities in the capital city, which was then called Niislel Khuree, on January 5 of 1920.

Sukhbaatar was one of the First Seven representatives to ask for the Soviet's assistance in order to liberate Mongolia from Guomindang's army and "white" Russian forces. On March 6 of 1921, D.Sukhbaatar was appointed the commander and chief of the newly established People's Militia of Mongolia.

He worked as the Defense Minister between March and December of 1922, and had been a member of the Army Council between April of 1921 and February of 1923, until he died.

He was one of the signees to the Friendship Agreement between Mongolia and the Soviet Union. D.Sukhbaatar was the first person to be awarded with both the title Hero of the People's Republic of Mongolia and the Red Banner Order of the USSR.

D.Sukhbaatar passed away upon the sunshine of February 20 of 1923. Historians suggest two explanations to his death, either of a chronic illness or assassination. Some of Mongolian movies tells the story about his death that Sukhbaatar was murdered. The reason of the great leader's death remains unclear.

Today, a province in the eastern Mongolia and the central square of Ulaanbaatar city are named after him. The equestrian statue of Sukhbaatar stands in the center of Sukhbaatar Square.

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UNFPA Mongolia: Inviting Civil Society Organizations for Combating Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

Deadline: 2 March 2017

The Mongolia Country Office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an international development agency, is inviting qualified civil society organizations for its program entitled "Combating Gender-Based Violence" (GBV) in Mongolia with an aim to strengthen national capacity to combat gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, in Mongolia, the proposed project aims to tackle GBV in Mongolia.

UNFPA is seeking for a partnership arrangement with a Civil Society Organization as the UNFPA Implementing Partner which will conduct the following:

  • To support timely and high quality implementation of the Project through meaningful participation of CSO;
  • To carry out advocacy efforts aimed at strengthening and implementing legal provisions related to the victim protection and service provision, and increasing the Government budget allocation to victim protection, rehabilitation services, and prevention efforts using the experience and expertise;
  • To support the project's efforts to mobilize and reach out the public including youth groups and facilitate public initiatives undertaken at all levels of community using innovative approaches, with the aim to enhance the effectiveness of the Project implementation; and
  • To share experiences with Government and other non-governmental organizations and actively participate in sensitization of decision and policy makers and the government institutions as well as raising awareness of the public.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Holds legal NGO status and officially registered in the relevant authorities;
  • Does not act as an intermediary body in the Project, but as a direct implementer for the preparation, management and implementation of the project proposed;
  • Employs a sufficient number of staff with relevant educational and professional background. Staff experience should well documented;
  • Financial management (review of audited financial statements for the past three years of operation);
  • Legitimate geographical representation/branches in the in the country; and
  • Reference checking

How to Apply

Interested CSOs must submit the required documents via given website:

  • Full legal name and address of applying institution and organizational brochure
  • Copy of valid legal registration in the country
  • Copy of audited financial statements for the past three years
  • Short description of institutional and management capacity and existing operations in the subject matter areas including their duration (no more than 3 pages, Arial 10 font);
  • Technical proposal against the areas identified in this TOR and strategies how they would carry out the project activities.

Eligible Country: Mongolia

For more information, please visit Combating Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

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Tsagaan Sar trade fairs kick off all around UB

February 5 (UB Post) Small trade fairs are being organized throughout Ulaanbaatar to help locals prepare for Tsagaan Sar with more affordable domestic goods and services.

Vendors are selling milk and dairy products from Tariat soum in Arkhangai Province for low prices outside of the Wrestling Palace. Bayanzurkh District and Tariat soum are organizing the event for the third year, and several officials came to attend the opening and promote sales, including Deputy Bayanzurkh District Mayor T.Battsogt, Head of the district office B.Amartuvshin, Head of Bayanzurkh District Trade Services Department B.Khaliunaa, Tariat Soum Council Head B.Battsogtokh and Tariat Soum Mayor G.Altan-Ochir.

The fair features clean and healthy products made by herders. More than 100 herders from Tariat soum brought over 80 tons of dairy products for sale, including aaruul, airag, milk, urum (cream formed on boiled milk), cheese, curds, yoghurt, and liquor made of fermented milk.

The trade fair will continue until Monday outside of the Wrestling Palace.

In addition, dairy products from Tariat soum were selected as the "best" products from Arkhangai Partnership Trade Fair for two years in a row, and Tariat residents carried out a project to improve the quality of products of animal origin for the last three years.

Chingeltei District partnered with Business Incubator Center and Neg Arkhangai NGO, and is organizing a fair outside the Independence Palace. The fair aims to promote small and medium-sized enterprises for the 25th anniversary of Chingeltei District, and will be available until February 20.

At the initiative of Global Event Company, Shangri Mall opened a fair for Tsagaan Sar preparations on February 4. The fair features modernized Mongolian deel, shoes, accessories, belts, gift sets, and more.

Another fair, Made in Mongolia 2016, will take place from February 12 to 26 at Soyolj Center, located along Sun Road.

Traditional pastries for Tsagaan Sar, sweets, nuts coated in milk, fruits, gifts, cashmere and leather products, winter deel, meat and everything else you need for the celebration will be available at the fair with discounted prices.

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A Cake That's More Spiritual Offering Than Last Course

December 1 (Food52) From fifth through seventh grade, my best friend was named Elena.* We rode the bus together every day after school. She was a quarter Korean, and she'd been born in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in 1991, just after the country had detached from the Soviet Union. But her family was mostly from Mongolia.

These all became major talking points whenever she introduced herself to people. In our cosseted New Jersey private school, each student was either East Indian, like me, or some shade of white. Elena seemed terribly ashamed of her own heritage, and so she tried to deal with this insecurity through making fun of herself, as if trying to beat everyone else to an imagined punchline. She would often rib about her "chinky eyes" and being every boy's "Asian persuasion." Other demographics were targets of this cardboard stereotyping, too—she called black girls "Oreos" and called me "curry faggot." But she was her own best disputant.

Her house was a McMansion in East Brunswick, the stooshiest of New Jersey's constellation of Brunswicks. It had an elevator. Her bedroom was outfitted with a few mini television screens that relayed what everything that surveillance cameras planted in various spots across the house saw. The first and only time I went to Elena's house was in seventh grade, one Saturday in February. She'd decided to invite eight or so of us—it was a matter of great exclusivity. Her mother and grandmother were there. Neither spoke much English, just Russian and Mongolian, a fact that embarrassed her.

She hurried us past her mother and grandmother into a room outfitted with a projector and stereo system. We played spin the bottle; the party was my introduction to Ciara's "Goodies." There was no alcohol, but the offerings were nonetheless standard party fare from a nearby Shop Rite: Chex Mix. Cheetos. Carbonated sodas.

Outside the room, Elena's grandmother sat at the dining table watching television. She was placid and unmoving, as if a mute watchdog or security guard. I escaped the room for a bathroom break and came upon her sitting next to what resembled a great stack of tough-looking Twinkies, their middles depressed rather than elevated, topped with Domino sugar cubes. I did not try any of this, but its image persists in my memory, and only recently have I—maybe—found a name for it. I think it was ul boov.

Ul boov, which translates quite plainly as "shoe sole cake," remains quite obscure outside of Mongolia and its diaspora. Not even the English-language Wikipedia page for the holiday it's attached to—Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian New Year also celebrated by indigenous peoples in pockets of the Arctic, east of the Urals and near Lake Baikal—deigns to list it by name. It is simply referred to "as a pyramid of traditional cookies erected on a large dish in a special fashion symbolising Mount Sumeru or Shambhala realm." The dessert is meant to be an edible representation of Mount Meru, the peak of Buddhist lore surrounded by seven seas and seven walls, or the Shambhala, the mythical village of Tibetan Buddhism. It is topped with sugar cubes, aarul (sweet, dried curds prepared months in advance from the milk from a sheep, goat, camel, or yak), and candies wrapped in plastic.

Tsagaan Sar ("White Moon") (Mogi: common mistake, white month actually. The Mongolian word for month and moon is the same) itself isn't terribly well-known beyond the Mongolian and indigenous Siberian diaspora. It's a three-day festival, a hybrid of Buddhist and Shamanist traditions, that falls on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Tsagaan Sar tends to correspond on the yearly calendar with either January or February. The holiday derives its name, in part, from the color of the food that is served—most of it is pearl-white, mimicking its meteorological surroundings (temperatures can dip as low as -22°F during this time of year).

The festivities begin with an evening known as Bituun ("to close down"), when disparate generations convene under the same roof. Elderly hosts must tidy the house, metaphorically and literally—it is a time to dislodge from the grudges everyone has held against family members all year and make amends. It is the night of a lush feast, and ul boov is the centerpiece of this meal that offers buuz, steamed mutton dumplings; a large, hulking sheep served in a large platter at the table's center; airag, fermented mare's milk; seabuckthorn juice; and warm vodka.

Ul boov is a cake of deep-fried, oblong cookies stacked in layers of odd numbers that signify good fortune. The youngest generation stacks three layers, the middle five, the eldest seven. The act of stacking in itself is an elaborate, balletic enterprise, like a game of Jenga. Celebrants must place two cookies directly next to one another and then lay another, crosswise, atop this pair; repeat this step countless times. Each layer requires a minimum of six cookies.

The sole English-language recipe for ul boov I've been able to find is straightforward enough, calling for a mix of wheat flour, water, and clarified Mongolian butter (known as shar tos, made from milk, sugar, and salt) to make a dough that you must knead it tirelessly until it's virtually solid. Then, you mold the dough into separate small logs.

What follows is a gesture that is unique to each household: Every family has woodblock instrument with intricate patterns embedded in it, passed down from one generation to the next. Press into each one using these wooden blocks, depressing the centers and creating protruding bulges around the edge of each cookie, in the vein of mini, ovular deep-dish pizzas. Each cookie must then be doused them in cooking oil—typically beef tallow, though any cooking oil suffices as a substitute—and fried until they tan.

Scholars of Mongolian history have been unable to pinpoint the exact birthdate of Tsagaan Sar, though they agree upon one fact: it predates the thirteenth century, when warlord Genghis Khan assumed power. Before that, Tsagaan Sar was observed as an end-of-summer festival, corresponding, usually, to September on the Gregorian calendar.

This changed when Khan entered the fray. With Khan's ascension in 1206 came his power-drunk desire to commemorate the beginning of his regency with a flamboyant holiday. And so he moved Tsagaan Sar to the winter.

With this seasonal shift came the move to eat primarily white foods, like ul boov, to coincide with the holiday. "The Tartars begin their year in February, when the khan and his people celebrate a feast, where all, both men and women, are clothed in white robes," Marco Polo would write in his famous 1300 tome detailing his travels around the world. "They consider these as signifying joy and good fortune, and that hence all prosperity will happen to them or any dominion under him, make the most magnificent resents in their power."

In 1644, the Qing Dynasty of China took over Mongolia, under which the holiday and its customs flourished. Tsagaan Sar survived well into 1911, when the country gained independence upon dynastic collapse. Quietly stewing in the country in the following decade were strains of socialist resistance that would assume power through a 1921 revolution, a takeover that would work to scrub the country clean of Tsagaan Sar.

In this period, it became gauche to celebrate such an ostentatious holiday in the open, particularly under a new government that sought to ape the austerity of its Soviet neighbors. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party banned it for fear that it was too extravagant and lavish a celebration, signifying bounty. In 1957, the government replaced it with a holiday known as the "Spring Festival of the Herdsmen," or "Collective Herder's Day," meant to celebrate the toil of collectivist workers.

The holiday continued to be celebrated covertly in pockets of Mongolia, in the privacy and enclosure of homes, keeping some of its core traditions alive. People still carved intricate stamps for ul boov; this was an art its observants never lost. The bloodless Mongolian Revolution of 1990 ushered democracy into the state, and with it came a rebirth of dormant traditions that the socialist government had tried, unsuccessfully, to will into oblivion.

There is an unsurprising paucity of existing English-language literature on ul boov, and Tsagaan Sar more generally. It is for this reason that I wanted to thaw the moratorium on my correspondence with Elena, whom I haven't spoken to in years. Elena and I had fallen out of touch after ninth grade. We did not really end our friendship on bad terms; I'm not sure we left on any terms at all, so much as we drifted apart rather naturally, running in social circles that never intersected.

I wonder if the cake I saw on her dining room table really was ul boov. The dates certainly line up—it was winter, which is when the holiday is observed. But the memory is too suspiciously tidy for me to trust myself. I still had her 908 area code number in my phone, and I texted her to gut check my memory. She did not respond.

One of the few English-language encomiums to ul boov was written three years ago by Michelle Borok in Roads & Kingdoms. Like me, she was ul boov-adjacent, though the artery that connects her to it is more potent than my thinning middle school memory: Borok is a Korean-American woman married to a Mongolian man, and she currently lives in Darkhan, Mongolia's second-largest city. "[I]n order to truly understand the holiday, you need to be kin to some Mongolian," she posited in her piece. Even she admitted, in her writing, that there is only so much of this dessert's spiritual charge, history, and significance she can grasp as a non-Mongolian in spite of her proximity.

When I wrote to her last month, Borok was insistent on one fact: sometimes, ul boov isn't even eaten. "It's linked a little more closely to food as spiritual offering," she suggested, as if the creation of this food is tradition of steeped in antiquity and respect, that the result is too good to eat. She maintained, rather, that ul boov is more decorative, its purpose primarily ornamental and symbolic of intergenerational reverence.

Most photographs I see of ul boov are objectively atrocious, depicting lumpen stacks of dough decaying alongside meat on a serving tray. Try scouring Creative Commons—it's near impossible to find a flattering image of a cake that is meant to be aesthetically pristine. It may be one of those foods that is too beautiful to photograph, almost as if the medium cheapens it.

Even if this image is a product of my fictive and fanciful memory, I can picture it on Elena's dining room table, magnificent and stately, as big as her house. And though I didn't taste it, only now do I realize that perhaps it was meant to be that way.

* This wasn't really her name.

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Nature & Environment

2016/2017 Dzud Emergency Response, Mongolia Needs Assessment and Response Plan

January 31 (People in Need) Introduction

Mongolia is facing the second dzud episode in a row after severe winter conditions in 2015/2016 that triggered an international humanitarian response. As a direct consequence in 2017, it is expected that thousands of households and their livelihoods will be in need of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the impact of the dzud on their lives (CERF 2016).

People in Need conducted a humanitarian needs assessments from 12th to 19th December 2016 in Dornod province in anticipation of the emergency response to support the most vulnerable herder communities negatively affected by this year´s dzud and at risk of having their livelihoods severely compromised or lost.

This needs assessment report outlines 1. the current dzud situation; 2. the needs of the most vulnerable populations and 3. a coordinated plan of intervention of PIN/CCR in three provinces of Eastern Mongolia planned to commence in February 2017.

Context

Mongolia has one of the harshest climates in the world, characterized by a very brief warm season lasting about 2 months, and a long winter with temperatures reaching down to below -50°C. At the same time, 46% of the country's 3 million population lives in remote rural areas,1 and among them the bulk are nomadic pastoralists. For those, livestock is the only source of livelihood, representing their entire cash income and contributing to approximately 30% of the herders´ food source (FAO in PIN 2016). Herder households have traditionally well-developed resilience and coping mechanisms to cope with the harsh environment, including the so called dzud.

The dzud phenomenon is a cyclical natural incidence specific to Mongolia. Considered a slow onset disaster, a dzud is characterized by a summer drought followed by a severe winter with dense snow, winds and abnormally low temperatures falling down to below -50°C (for more details on dzud causes and impacts see Figure 1).

The concurrence of these seasonal factors has a negative consequence on pastoralist livelihoods leading to shortage of feed for livestock due to a lower hay harvest, followed by inability of livestock to graze due to severe winter conditions. It also puts severe pressure on the population: with many roads blocked by heavy snow, remote populations cannot access soum centers offering basic services (such as health, education, transportation). Unable to access local markets, remote populations face shortages of food and have difficulties coping with the extremely harsh winter. Such impact is exacerbated by man-made factors such as unsustainable pasture management, inadequate winter hay and fodder preparation and lack of winter shelters for the livestock.

Traditionally, dzuds occurred every ten years. However recently due to climatic changes and man-made contributions, the frequency of dzud events has increased, and in the last three decades Mongolia suffered a dzud in less than every four years. The frequent recurrence of these events has had increasingly adverse effects on the herder populations, their livestock and their livelihoods. These repeated shocks rapidly erode their traditional coping strategies.

In 2009/2010 9.7 million heads of livestock (20% of the country's entire herd stock) died as a result of severe dzud. As a consequence, 44,000 households lost their livelihoods and required international humanitarian assistance (World Bank, Lessons Learned from the Dzud, 2012 in PIN 2016). Dzud in 2015/2016 resulted in the death of 1.1 million livestock affecting 30,000 households (UNDP, CERF report 2016).

This year´s dzud is expected to be more severe compared to last year (for more details see Figure 3). Mongolia has now confirmed 127 districts ("soums") in 17 out of 21 provinces as affected by a dzud condition. The situation has been gradually worsening since December 2016 and is expected to further deteriorate until February 2017 as the snowfall is likely to increase and temperatures decline (LEMA 2016).

The critical period will start in the end of January 2017 and can last up to mid-April 2017, until the households will start getting an income from cashmere sales and pasture for livestock will be more readily accessible.

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Distribution and molecular characteristics of rickettsiae found in ticks across Central Mongolia

Bazartseren Boldbaatar, Rui-Ruo Jiang, Michael E. von Fricken (Email author), Sukhbaatar Lkhagvatseren, Pagbajab Nymadawa, Bekhochir Baigalmaa, Ya-Wei Wang, Benjamin D. Anderson, Jia-Fu Jiang and Gregory C. Gray

Parasites & Vectors 01710:61 | DOI: 10.1186/s13071-017-1981-3 | ©  The Author(s). 2017 | Received: 25 October 2016 | Accepted: 12 January 2017 | Published: 2 February 2017

ABSTRACT

Background

Little is known regarding tick-borne diseases in Mongolia, despite having 26% of the population still living nomadic pastoral lifestyles. A total of 1497 adult unfed ticks: 261 Ixodes persulcatus, 795 Dermacentor nuttalli, and 441 Hyalomma asiaticum, were collected from three ecologically distinct regions in Central Mongolia. Tick pools (n=299) containing ~5 ticks each, were tested for Rickettsia and Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) using nested polymerase chain reaction, reverse transcription-PCR, and quantitative real-time RT-PCR.

Results

Assays yielded pooled prevalence of 92.5% (49/53) and 1.9% (1/53) for pooled I. persulcatus testing positive for "Candidatus Rickettsia tarasevichiae" and TBEV, respectively, while Rickettsia raoultii was found in 72.8% (115/158) of pooled D. nuttalli samples. When calculating a maximum likelihood estimation, an estimated 46.6% (95% CI: 35.2–63.6%) of I. persulcatus ticks in the pooled sample were infected with "Candidatus R. tarasevichiae".

Conclusions

Both "Candidatus R. tarasevichiae" and R. raoultii are recognized as emerging tick-borne pathogens, with this being one of the first reports of "Candidatus R. tarasevichiae" in Mongolia. Given that "Candidatus R. tarasevichiae" shares the same vector (I. persulcatus) as TBEV, and infections may present with similar symptoms, Mongolian physicians treating suspected cases of TBEV should include "Candidatus R. tarasevichiae" infection in their differential diagnosis and consider prescribing antimicrobial therapy.

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Viral plague spreads to rare saiga antelope in Mongolia

February 1 (Earth Touch) A one-of-a-kind Central Asian antelope already up to its horns in threats is facing an ugly new one that's taken scientists by surprise.

About 900 saiga – tawny steppeland antelope distinguished by wacky bulbous noses and a penchant for long-distance travel – have died on the plains of western Mongolia's Khovd Province. The deaths amount to almost ten percent of the total population of this distinct Mongolian subspecies, which is less numerous and less migratory than the saiga on the other side of the Altai Mountains in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia. 

What's killing off these wonderfully odd-looking grassland grazers? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the likely culprit is a viral infection called the Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), also known as ovine rinderpest or goat plague, a dread disease of domestic sheep and goats that can have a 90 percent fatality rate.

Together with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the FAO is currently spearheading the PPR Eradication Programme, an international effort to wipe out ovine rinderpest by 2030. The disease threatens small domestic ruminants and the rural livelihoods dependent on them in some 75 African and Eurasian countries. 

Mongolia experienced its first recorded PPR outbreak among livestock in September 2016, and it's possible that the virus hopped to saiga on winter rangeland where the antelope overlap with domestic herds. It's an unprecedented situation, as the FAO notes in a press release:

"While wildlife have long been considered potentially vulnerable, relatively few actual cases of PPR infection have been documented in free ranging wild goat-like species and never in free-ranging antelope."

The PPR plague may be novel, but disease outbreaks and mass die-offs are nothing new for the saiga, which in 2014 was thought to number some 262,000 worldwide. Numerous large-scale fatality events have occurred in recent decades among the more widespread western subspecies. Many of these die-offs occur in spring, when saiga ewes gather on calving grounds. 

Kazakhstan, the greatest remaining saiga refuge, has seen several distressingly large and widely publicised incidents of this kind in the past several years. About 75 percent of western Kazakhstan's Ural saiga population, some 12,000 animals, died in May 2010. A few years later, more than 200,000 – that's more than 70 percent of all saiga worldwide – perished among the Betpak-Dala herd in the central part of the country northeast of the Aral Sea.

Like many before them, these die-offs were linked to virulent outbreaks of the bacterium Pasteurella multocida – a pathogen found in saiga that normally isn't deadly – in concert with extreme weather fluctuations and other environmental factors that biologists are still trying to sort out. 

Over the centuries, saiga numbers in Central Asia have risen and fallen for many reasons. Because ewes commonly bear twins, herds can undergo rapid population spikes, while thousands may die at a time not just from various epidemics, but also from severe winters.

In modern times, such natural boom-and-bust cycles have played out against a backdrop of human-caused decline via overhunting for meat, poaching (the horns of saiga bucks are valued in Asian medicine), competition with livestock, and widespread habitat destruction and fragmentation in the region's steppes, which is particularly devastating to migratory herds. 

Last year, conservationists were heartened that Kazakhstan's three saiga populations, including the Betpak-Dala herds, had all increased, though numbers were still well below those preceding the 2015 mass die-off. 

Back in Mongolia, meanwhile, wildlife health experts fear the ramifications of a PPR onslaught among Mongolian saiga given their already small populations – only 5,000 to 7,000 remain. "More field investigations will have to be carried out to know the extent of the recent outbreak. If PPR is confirmed to be the main cause, the saiga death toll is likely to reach into the thousands in the next three months," warns Bouna Diop of the PPR Eradication Programme.

In an effort to counter the contagion's spread, authorities hope to keep domestic animals as separate as possible from saiga herds, and are urging local herders to vaccinate their sheep and goats.

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Similar:

Latest disease outbreak in Mongolia could cause ecosystem disasterSaiga Conservation Alliance, February 2

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Native Fish Species Of Mongolia

The Taimen, a native fish of Mongolia, is one of the largest species in the falmon family on earth.

February 1 (World Atlas) The country of Mongolia is located in East Asia and is bordered by both China and Russia. Mongolia is a landlocked country that is more known for its rugged steppe terrain and the Gobi Desert then it is for its lakes and native fish species. However, this article will discuss the native fish that call Mongolia home and mention their physical characteristics, habitat and current conservation status.

The native fish species of Mongolia:

Amur Pike

The Amur Pike, scientific name Esox reichertii, is a species of pike that is a member of the Esocidae family of freshwater fish. An adult of the species can grow to be up to 45 inches in length and weight up to 27 pounds. The species has a silver colored body that has small, black spots on it. This species is native to the Amur River system that runs through China, Russia and Mongolia and can only be found there. The Amur Pike has yet to be assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, so it is unknown what its current status is, if it faces any major threats and what its population trend is.

Brown Trout

The Brown Trout, scientific name Salmo trutta, is a species of fish that is a salmon and a member of the family Salmonidae family of ray-finned fish that includes trout, salmon, chars, graylings and whitefish. Adults of this species can grow to be up to 39 inches in length and weight 44 pounds depending on where they live. This species can range in color from being mostly silver with a white belly to being a brassy brown color that fades into a creamy white at the belly. This species habitat is found in cold streams, rivers, lakes and also in lake outlets. This species is native to most of the countries in Europe, but has since been introduced to throughout the rest of Europe, North America, Central America, New Zealand, Australia, southern and eastern Africa, Japan, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Nepal. According to the ICUN Red List, the Brown Trout is currently classified as a species of least concern since 2008 and its current population trend is unknown. The major threats that this species faces are from being locally threatened in certain locations from water pollution and from the impacts that salmon farming can have, like sea lice.

Hovsgol Grayling

The Hovsgol Grayling, scientific name Thymallus nigrescens, is a species of grayling that is a member of the Salmonidae family of ray-finned fish. An adult of this species usually grow to be between 6.69 to 7.78 inches (17 to 20 centimeters) in length. This species has a silvery colored body with blue colored upper and lower fins. This species is endemic to Mongolia and is only found in Lake Khuvsgul, also known as Lake Hovsgol. The Hovsgol Grayling has yet to be assessed by the IUCN Red List, so it is unknown what its current status is and what its population trend is. It is known that the species faces pressures from climate change, water pollution, illegal fishing and increased development in the area.

Sharp-Snouted Lenok

The sharp-snouted lenok, scientific name Brachymystax leno, is a species of fish that is a salmon and a member of the family Salmonidae family of ray-finned fish. Adults of this species grow to be around 28 inches (70 centimeters) in length. This species is a light reddish color with a black colored top side and some black striping on its sides. This species inhabits the deep cold waters of rivers and can be found under ice during the winter time. This species is found in the central and eastern parts of Russia, northeastern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia as well as in northeastern China. The sharp-snouted lenok has yet to be assessed by the IUCN Red List, so it is unknown what its current status is and what its population trend is. It is known that the species has declined in certain areas due to pollution and over-exploitation.

Taimen

The Taimen, scientific name Hucho taimen, is a species of fish that is a Salmonidae family. Adults of this species usually grow to be around 28 to 47 inches in length and between 33 to 66 pounds. This species usually has an olive green colored head that blends into a reddish brown color at its tail. This species is only found in freshwater and is usually found in rivers and streams that have swift currents, although they have also been found along coastal rivers and at altitudes above 4,921 feet. This species is native to the countries of Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China. According to the ICUN Red List, the Taimen has been listed as a vulnerable species overall since 2012, but has been listed as being endangered in Mongolia as its population has decline by 50% since the 1980s. This species face many major threats, including pollution, illegal fishing, climate change, recreational fishing, road construction, damming of rivers, mining and sedimentation and erosion.

What is being done to help the native fish species of Mongolia:

There are efforts that are being undertaken to help protect the native fish species of Mongolia. The government of Mongolia has established national parks and nature reserves, like the Lake Hovsgol National Park where the Hovsgol Graying can only be found. They have also put restrictions on gillnet fishing in certain areas to protected species from over-fishing. The government of Mongolia stills needs to put regulations on mining, as well as sand and gravel extraction, so that stream beds are protected.

Native Fish of Mongolia

Scientific Name

Taimen

Hucho taimen

Sharp-Snouted Lenok

Brachymystax leno

Brown Trout

Salmo trutta

Amur Pike

Esox reichertii

Hovsgol Grayling

Thymallus nigrescens

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Native Birds Of Mongolia

Mongolia's vast expanses of steppes, deserts, and scattered forests house more than 400 known species of birds.

February 2 (World Atlas) Mongolia has an incredible number of native bird species occupying its diverse ecosystems. Types of birds include resident birds, which are breeding birds that stay all year round, migrant birds, and wintering birds who escape the cold weather in the north. Mongolia is a breathtakingly beautiful country with its pristine landscapes, grasslands, mountains, alpine forests and deserts. Even though the country seems like a vacant desert, there is a wide distribution of flora and fauna in the 10% forest cover.

The native birds of Mongolia

Horned Grebe

The Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), also known as Slavonian grebe is a native waterbird of Mongolia. Its name is derived from the distinctive golden-yellow patches of feathers behind the eyes, which look like short horns. The horned grebe has a straight stubby bill and a flat-topped head, especially on the rear side. The 'horns' are only on display during the breeding season and can either be lowered or erected during the breeding season. This species is also widespread in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Caucasian Great Rosefinch

The Caucasian Great Rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilla) is native to Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, China, Georgia, and Afghanistan. This bird can be found in natural habitats of temperate grasslands and tundra landscapes. The rosefinch's habitat is the alpine and subalpine areas with sparse vegetation. Rosefinches mainly feed on seeds, shoots, buds and flowers of the small alpine plants and occasionally on small insects and berries. The breeding season begins in late May and extends to August. The Carpodacus rubicilla is a resident bird and altitudinal migrant during the non-breeding seasons where it moves for short distances.

Hoopoe

The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) has a huge range and can be found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. This bird is named after its vocalization as it produces a 'hoop hoop hoop' sound. It has a pinkish-brown plumage with alternating black and white bars. This makes it conspicuous and easily recognizable. The hoopoe feeds on small invertebrates and can be found looking for food in short grass and bare soil. Currently, the conservation status of the hoopoe is of least concern.

Barn Swallow

The Barn swallow has a cobalt blue color on the top side and tawny color on the underside. The barn swallow flies low near the ground or water surface while searching for flying insect for food. They build their cup-shaped mud nests from exclusively human-made structures. You can find them in open habitats from parks, fields, ponds, meadows, roadway edges, marshes, and coastal waters.

Lesser Sandplover

The Lesser Sand plover (Charadrius mongolus) is a wading shorebird with greyish-brown upperparts, black forehead, and white abdomen. The diet of the sand plover includes crustaceans, insects, molluscs, and worms. The sand plover has also been observed eating seeds. The range of the sand plover includes Southern Mongolia, Siberia, the Himalayas and western China. It is a migratory species, spending parts of winter in eastern and southern Africa, the Arab peninsula, India and the middle East. On rare occasions, it may spend winter in Europe. During the breeding season, it inhabits tundra, steppe, and deserts, where it nests on the bare ground.

In conclusion,

Other native birds of Mongolia include the Eurasian Treecreeper, Black-Capped Kingfisher, Azure Tit, Greater Painted Snipe and the Ortolan Bunting.

Native Birds of Mongolia

Scientific Name

Horned Grebe

Podiceps auritus

Caucasian Great Rosefinch

Carpodacus rubicilla

Hoopoe

Upupa epops

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

Lesser Sandplover

Charadrius mongolus

Eurasian Treecreeper

Certhia familiaris

Black-Capped Kingfisher

Halcyon pileata

Azure Tit

Cyanistes cyanus

Greater Painted Snipe

Rostratula benghalensis

Ortolan Bunting

Emberiza hortulana

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Sports

'King Tug' prepares for 8th professional fight on March 12

February 2 (news.mn) N.Tugstogt, nicknamed "King Tug", will undertake his eighth professional fight on 12thof March. He claimed his seventh win on knockouts (KO) on December 9 of 2016 in a fight with Mexican boxer Herman Meraz in USA.

Mongolian professional boxer N.Tugstsogt won a silver medal in the Flyweight category of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Since becoming a professional boxer, 'King Tug' has had seven fights, all of which he has won by KO (knockout). As yet, no rival has appeared.  N.Tugstsogt has been training during his transition from amateur to professional boxer under the supervision of a US trainer.

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N.Tugstsogt expects eighth fight next monthMontsame, February 2

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Grandmaster T.Batchimeg wins former world chamption Mariya Muzychuk in Gibraltar

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ Annual chess festival "Tradewise Gibraltar Chess 2017" took place from January 24 to February 02. Mongolian chess player International Master and Woman Grandmaster (IM-WGM) T.Batchimeg won against former World Champion, Grandmaster M.Muzychuk.

A total of 255 chess players from over 50 countries participated in the "Masters" category. Among them were 12 best players from 89 Grandmasters with 2700+ elo points.

IM-WGM T.Batchimeg's match against Ukrainian Grandmaster M.Muzychuk is shown below.

In the tournament, Candidate Master (CM) B.Galmandakh 5.5 /points/ (starting rank 166, ranked 108, world chess federation ranking +45.4), IM-WGM T.Batchimeg 5 (100, 108, +12.8), IM-WGM D.Nomin-Erdene 5 (111, 141, -20.6), CM R.Amgalanbaatar 5 (217, 1238, +71.2) were participated from Mongolia.

From the 75 participants of Challenger "A" category, CM B.Galmandakh took the 6th place and CM R.Amgalanbaatar was placed at 30th.

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Ya.Zorigtbaatar breaks Mongolian speed skating record at Universiade

Ulaanbaatar, February 3 /MONTSAME/ Organized by International University Sports Federation (FISU), the 28th "Winter Universiade 2017", a multi-sports event is taking place in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 10 Mongolian athletes are competing in the Winter Universiade 2017 from January 31 to February 5.

During a 500m speed skating contest held on February 1, Mongolian athlete Ya.Zorigtbaatar was ranked at 27th and set a new record for Mongolia with a record of 37.06 seconds. He also broke his own record of 37.94 seconds set at the 2016 ISU Junior World Cup Speed Skating in Belarus.

The 18 year-old young athlete from "Aldar" sports committee, Ya.Zorigtbaatar is coached under D.Enkhbayar. In the 28th Winter Universiade, Mongolian best athletes, including M.Munkh-Od, Ya.Zorigtbaatar, B.Tulga and A.Zul have entered the speed skating contest under the coach J.Doljinsuren. From a total of 37 athletes competed in men's 500m speed skating contest, the athletes from the Republic of Korea and Japan won the competition.

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Two Scots win one of world's toughest mountain marathons and celebrate in the most patriotic way ever

Mum-of-two Audrey McIntoch won the women's event while Edinburgh doctor Andrew Murray took home the men's title and celebrated with a Burns' Supper

February 2 (Daily Record) Two Scots won one of the world's toughest mountain marathons – and celebrated with a Burns' Supper.

Mum-of-two Audrey McIntosh, from Glasgow, won the women's event at the ice-encrusted Genghis Khan Marathon in Mongolia in temperatures of -32C.

Edinburgh doctor Andrew Murray won the men's event, retaining his title from the inaugural event last year, in 3hrs 30mins.

After navigating around ­mountains and a frozen river network while trying to avoid packs of wolves, the hardy Scots sat down to the Burns Supper at the end of the race, which was served up with traditional Mongolian dishes.

GP Andrew, 36, previously ran 4300km from northern Scotland to the Sahara desert and works as a sports and exercise medicine consultant at Edinburgh University.

He said: "The run could not have been any more stunning, although the ski goggles I wore to prevent frostbite frosted up.

"It all went incredibly smoothly, except when I put my foot through a small patch of soft ice in the river."

Audrey, 53, only took up running in her 30s after husband Alasdair, now 58, fell ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

She has raised ­thousands for charity after completing polar marathons and marathons at more than 14,000ft.

Amazingly, she won a ­marathon in Africa's Namibian desert in temperatures of 36C a week before – in the same 6hr 17mins time as her win in Mongolia.

Dave Scott, the race director and Honorary Consul of Scotland to Mongolia, said: "Haggis, as well as Mongolian delicacies such as goat and potatoes, could be ideal for recovering from a race.

"Potatoes and oatmeal replace the carbohydrates used, while the goat and the protein in haggis could help repair muscles."

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10 things no one tells you before you run an ice marathon

February 4 (The Telegraph) Scottish ultrarunner Dr Andrew Murray travelled to the frozen plains of Outer Mongolia at the end of January and successfully retained his title of Genghis Khan Ice Marathon champion. Before he went, Murray revealed to Telegraph Men nuggets of advice gleaned from previous ice race experience …

1. There be wolves 

"Last year I ran the first Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Outer Mongolia in the Tuul Gol River area. We have huskies pulling support sleds as the terrain isn't suitable for trucks. In all there were around 30 huskies running alongside us. They are also there to keep runners safe from the packs of wild wolves that roam across the wilderness."

2. It's a lonely run

"There were nine of us running the 2016 event and even with support and the huskies you soon realise how remote it is. Standing on the start line it was -34 celcius – actually better than expected, temperatures of -47 celcius were recorded the week before.  

"You realise that you're in a country with the lowest density of human habitation on earth, and in an area where wolves are more prevalent than people."

3. You're more likely to run on a river than a road

"Ice marathons are exactly that. Much of the terrain you run across is a frozen river network.

"It's an easier terrain to run over than the snow covered countryside either side of the rivers. With the temperatures so low the ice underfoot is stable."

4. It's time to over-dress

"I learned that it pays to wear running shoes a size bigger than usual and to take thick Arctic mittens with plenty of room in them too. You need to wear a couple of pairs of socks for running on ice and the additional room in the mitten is great for keeping energy gels and snack bars in. They stay warm and chewy – in a pocket they can freeze and become inedible."

5. Never flash the flesh

"You can't afford to expose your skin to the cold. I've got quite a prominent nose which is prone to frost-bite, so a balaclava is a must.

"You need good quality footwear too; frostbite in the feet can be a killer. And layer up like an onion!"

6. Overheating is the risk you run

"With all the layers, gloves and hats whilst running, you run the risk of overheating. You'll generate a lot of sweat which, once exposed to the air, freezes in an instant and can lead to frostburn on the skin."

7. Your breath gets taken away

"It's not just the freezing air that robs your throat of moisture and can make breathing a challenge. Running in Outer Mongolia is a truly breath-taking experience. I'd urge every runner to do it if they can. The vast landscape, the wild birds, yaks and wolves and even the few homes you see, the Gers (yurts) of the nomadic tribes, it all makes for a stunning backdrop to a marathon."

8. The weather changes – from severe to very severe

"When I was running the marathon last year it was a fairly pleasant -35 celcius out in the countryside where Ghengis Khan was born. But the next day I ran 110km from the marathon finish line to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. That day the wind picked up. It was at least minus 40. The diesel and radiator in the support truck froze and needed to be defrosted with a blow torch."

9. Getting lost could be fatal

"You have to keep your wits about you. Although the course is marked out it's easy for your ski goggles to get misty as you're sweating beneath them – runners can and do get disorientated. When I ran back to the capital after the marathon I did that 'off-road', across country, looking for landmarks until I hit a main road. If you're going to do that you'd be wise to take decent maps and satellite phone or navigation aid - as is packing a spare pair of ski googles."

10. Get a grip

"You're gliding along a frozen river and it can be difficult to get traction on the surface. Wearing ice grip spikes on your running shoes (like snow chains for car tyres) can help. I wear Merrell All Out Terra Ice Waterproofs which grip the sheet ice with their tungsten tipped spikes – they're perfect for ice running."

Dr. Andrew Murray is a Merrell ambassador, GP and elite endurance athlete  www.merrell.co.uk

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National champion boxer E.Tsendbaatar plans to go pro after Tokyo 2020

February 2 (UB Post) 2015 state champion in the men's 56 kg boxing E.Tsendbaatar moved up a weight class and gave a jaw-dropping performance at the 2017 State Boxing Championship. The 20-year-old seized the championship title after a fierce bloody battle against Olympic bronze medalist D.Otgondalai, who was the favorite to win the men's 60 kg.

In the following interview, E.Tsendbaatar explains his reason for moving up a weight class and speaks in detail about his match with D.Otgondalai.

Half a month has passed since the 2017 State Boxing Championship. The most spectacular match of the championship was the men's 60 kg, in which you took victory by beating D.Otgondalai 3:2. Why did you decide to move up a weight class?

The recent State Boxing Championship was a big test for the next Asian and World Boxing Championships. I put on more weight because I wanted to show a strong battle without decreasing my usual weight. I could've participated in the men's 56 kg, but the strongest boxers compete in the 60 kg weight class, so I decided to sign up for this competition. Besides, my weight is usually 60 kg. Most of all, losing weight diminishes my strength. I experienced this during the last Olympic Games, so this time, I didn't want to lose weight again.

In addition, I competed in the men's 60 kg of Chinggis Khaan Cup after returning from the Rio 2016 Olympics and won first place. I tried out the men's 60 kg again at the State Boxing Championship and won again.

Are you saying that there aren't strong opponents in the men's 56 kg weight class?

Of course there are many great boxers. The main thing I wanted to do was challenge myself in the 60 kg weight class. Oki (D.Otgondalai) and I were left in the finals and I got to do three great rounds with him and I won.

Did you want to fight D.Otgondalai in a real match? What did your coaches think when you said you will compete in the men's 60 kg?

My coaches told me that I couldn't win Oki and that he could beat me without even touching me. But I hoped to have a good match inside the ring and believed that I could win. In the end, I did win. In fact, we train together so we knew exactly how each of us boxed.

Training and competitions are completely different. We have to keep repeating our punches during training but during a match, you have to hit for real.

The final match looked fierce. Did you only think of winning during the match?

I fought with everything I had with the sole goal of winning. Oki is slightly taller and stronger than me. He's really the best – he could beat practically anyone. That's why, I knew that I had to exert all my power or I wouldn't win. The match probably looked more fierce and competitive because of that.

You never had the chance to meet D.Otgondalai in a real match before. Now that you've experienced it, how was it?

I don't know. We just kept on hitting each other. It wasn't that scary for me. I went inside the ring thinking that I should enjoy the match. I kept telling myself that I would win and that I'm fighting only to win. Even if I lost, I don't think I would've been that upset because I was actually boxing against one of the best Mongolian athletes who seized an Olympic medal. I also respect him a lot. In any case, I got my victory.

I went back to my regular training schedule as soon I returned from the Olympics. I didn't take a break at all and continued to constantly workout. I might have won because I continued to train.

Will you continue to compete in the 60 kg competition? Have you made your plans?

I will participate in competitions in my former weight class, 56 kg, this year. But I will move up to 60 kg competitions starting next year. I have some ideas for what I want to do. I will keep boxing until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but I want to become a professional boxer afterwards.

Since you plan to move up to the 60 kg weight class, you will be competing with D.Otgondalai for an Olympic quota. Wouldn't it be a win-win situation for the both of you if you stayed in 56 kg weight class?

No matter which weight class it is, there's bound to be strong opponents. Only by beating the best boxer in that weight class can I improve my achievement and enter international competitions. The better athlete who wins the state championship gets the chance to represent our country overseas. I plan to become the state champion for 60 kg weight class and get my right to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Like I said before, losing weight weakens you. I was able to stay strong when I maintained my usual weight and competed in the 60 kg competition. I won a gold medal. I won against a world class athlete. I realized that I could even beat tall, European athletes in the 60 kg weight class.

You'll be 23 years old in 2020. Most boxers experience the peak of their career when they are 27 or 28. It's possible for you to enter the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic. Why do you want to become a professional boxer after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

It's my dream. I want to go pro after becoming an Olympic champion. I would've already become a professional boxer if I'd won a medal in Rio de Janeiro. But I didn't. It was difficult to recover during the Olympic Games, especially at the bronze medal match. The 12-hour difference was really difficult for me. I was able to recover my strength at first because I got weighed in the morning and fought in the evening. But for the bronze medal match, I went straight into the ring a couple of hours after getting weighed. I couldn't rest or recover my strength. It was a really weird match. I could've defeated US's Shakur Stevenson. But things didn't work out. I know his boxing style. He used to compete in the 52 kg weight class, but he put on weight for the Olympics and entered our weight class.

Do you regret anything that you did or didn't do during the Olympics?

I became a state champion in 2015, but I wasn't sent to participate in the Asian or World Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournaments. The athlete I defeated was sent instead. I was very frustrated at the time because I had never competed in the Asian or World Championships. I thought I'd never be able to participate in international competitions abroad even if I win.

Back in 2014, when I was 17, I beat G.Gan-Erdene (one of Mongolia's most successful boxers) in the men's 49 kg at the State Boxing Championship. I was expecting to go to the Asian Championship and then World Championship since I'd won, but I couldn't because I was under age. I didn't think much of it though. But I was really upset when I couldn't go again in 2015, even though I'd won the State Boxing Championship and reached the eligible age. I regret it a lot. Had I gained more experience at the Asian and World Boxing Championships back then, I would've fought differently at the Rio 2016 Olympics.  My rank would've been higher. Coaches Batsuren and Erdenebayar didn't allow me to go. I don't know why. Maybe they didn't believe I could win. E.Iderkhuu (also a 56 kg boxer) couldn't win a medal at the Asian or World Boxing Championships. The coaches took me to the Olympic Qualification Tournament as a last resort. I gave everything I had to earn an Olympic quota. I fought every day. By the end, I thought it was never going to end and wondered when I would get a quota. Before I realized, I'd already secured it. I could finally relax. I was very calm when I was fighting for silver medal and I'm glad I won.

When did you start thinking about becoming a professional boxer?

I've been thinking about it for a long time. I was able to fight in professional boxing events only once or twice. One of them was ABP Pro Boxing, which took place last year in Moscow. I knocked out a Turkish boxer in that competition. We had to do six rounds. I want to go pro and become a legendary boxer. I want to become famous like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.

When I become a professional boxer, I will demand a rematch with Shakur Stevenson. He went pro right after the Olympics. I will also go pro.

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Art & Entertainment

Wonders of the Art of Embroidery exhibition at Bogd Khaan Museum

February 2 (MONTSAME) An exhibition named 'Wonders of Art of Embroidery' hosted by the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum unveiled accessories and clothes of Mongolia's last King Jebtsundamba Khutuktu and Queen Dondogdulam including the king's pouch.

Art pieces in spotlight were included a Queen skull cap with emerald inset, made by craftswomen working at the Bogd Khaan's Palace in early 20th century, a cigarette bag, a cup bag with chalcedony pin, Bogd Khaan's vest and silk brocade deel.  

Displayed at the exhibition were more than 200 pieces of embroidery art by about 50 embroiderers demonstrating traditional Mongolian embroidery techniques, cultural heritages of nomads.  

In 2010, Mongolia submitted relevant documents regarding the registration of traditional Mongolian embroidery art in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages. In order to forward this, Bogd Khaan's pouch is going to be remade in fourtimes its size, 225 cm long and 88 cm wide.  

During the opening of the exhibition, a thread-knotting ceremony was held to officiate the remaking of the king's pouch. The new pouch will be made using premium quality material and silk.

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Exhibition: "Pole Star", Blue Moon Art Gallery

February 4 (UB Post) Blue Moon Art Gallery (BMAG) is hosting "Pole Star", a group exhibition of work by senior artists, through February 12.

The exhibition includes 52 artworks by 45 senior artists 55 years and older, including those with state honors.

The exhibition includes fine art paintings, sculpture, Mongolian fine art, and illustration. The name of the exhibition is "Pole Star" because, like the North Star in the night sky leads lost travelers, senior artists lead the way for young artists by sharing their lifetime of knowledge and experience.

BMAG has hosted this annual exhibition for four years to motivate senior artists to continue creating artwork, promote their efforts, and to honor their work.

E.Temuge, a BMAG director, pointed out that the artwork by "Pole Star" senior artists present a variety of tones, depictions of nature, and styles of the 20th century to gallery visitors and young artists, and gives young artists the opportunity to learn from seniors and expand their artistic education.

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He Left the Hold Steady for Mongolia

Journeyman musician Franz Nicolay had done the big-band thing. He wanted to go solo. And he wanted to see Ulaanbaatar.

Listen to Episode 673 of Slate's The Gist:

Franz Nicolay made his bones playing with big bands, in size and in popularity (the Dresden Dolls, Against Me, the Hold Steady). But Nicolay longed to strike out on his own and master the "practical craft of the old vaudevillian." So he packed his banjo (and accordion and guitar) for a string of tours across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Nicolay's consequent book is The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground From Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar.

For the Spiel, the many types of liars employed by Donald Trump.

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Is the Eagle Huntress really a documentary?

February 6 (BBC) The Eagle Huntress, a documentary about a Kazakh nomad girl in Mongolia learning to hunt with a golden eagle, divides opinion. It is up for a Bafta award on Monday night but missed out on an Oscar nomination, possibly because to some viewers it feels staged. Director Otto Bell, however, denies all accusations that the film was scripted, acted or re-enacted.

The story of the Eagle Huntress is simple and heartwarming. Aisholpan Nurgaiv, the red-cheeked 13-year-old heroine, is trained by her father to hunt on horseback with a golden eagle - traditionally a male pursuit - and shocks everyone by winning the prestigious eagle-hunters' competition held annually in the town of Ulgii, in north-western Mongolia.

It has a stirring musical soundtrack, ends with an anthem "You can do anything" sung by pop superstar Sia, and is narrated by another teenage role model, Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley.

One reviewer has described it as a "fairytale documentary" - two words that don't usually go together - that feels at times "more like fiction than fact".

Another calls it a "repetitious, half-baked, contrived and crudely staged homily on female empowerment [that] tells us less about Kazakh nomads than Pocahontas does about the Algonquins in 17th Century Virginia". The film took another culture's traditions, he goes on, and translated them "into the tired platitudes of a second-rate Disney animation".

Early publicity for the film did little to inspire confidence, by stating that Aisholpan had fought "an ingrained culture of misogyny to become the first female eagle hunter in 2,000 years of male-dominated history" - a claim that US historian Adrienne Mayor has shown is untrue.

This line was recast to say that Aisholpan is "the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family" to be an eagle huntress. But Mayor and others still argue that the film creates a false impression, by failing to mention other Kazakh eagle huntresses, and exaggerating the patriarchal pressures that Aisholpan had to overcome.

"I think eagle hunting would be open to any young woman who would want to pursue it," Mayor says.

The spark for the film came when director Otto Bell came across photographs of Aisholpan taken by Israeli photographer Asher Svidensky on the BBC News website, in April 2014.

He tracked Aisholpan's family down (being nomads, they move around) and on the very first day, he says, filmed one of the early scenes in the film, where the girl and her father seize a baby eaglet from its nest. It's a dramatic moment with Aisholpan climbing down a cliff, her father holding a rope attached to her waist. And it's one of a number of scenes that some critics have assumed was staged.

Otto Bell rejects this.

"The scene where she takes the baby eagle out of the nest - people are always surprised to know that's one single take. I filmed it like I would film a live sports event," he says.

"I did it drawing on my experience in commercials. As far as reconstructing stuff and staging stuff, what you see on the screen is what we got."

Another scene that sceptics find questionable comes when Aisholpan's father, Agalai, gets his own father to give his blessing to Aisholpan's eagle-hunting ambitions. The shot is framed and the camera is rolling when the conversation between the two men takes place outside the tent, and the girl is summoned to receive the old man's good wishes.

Was it staged? No, says Bell.

"The blessing scene - he said he was going to do this, I just asked him to do it outside. He told me: 'We need to think about what my father thinks of this.' The father likes to sit outside anyway, he likes to watch the goats. That was as close [to staging] as we got."

There are other moments that critics grumble about. Tim Robey in the Telegraph describes as "woefully unspontaneous" a scene where a newsreader on the radio in the family's tent is heard talking about the forthcoming eagle festival, and Aisholpan pipes up to plead with her parents for permission to enter.

It's "engineered storytelling" he says. "You feel sorry for her enacting some of these charades."

Will Dunn in the New Statesman is also bothered by the film's "re-enactment and editorialising", though he notes that without the imposed girl-power narrative it's "a film about the fox-hunting techniques of Mongolian Kazakhs, a subject that is not exactly a banker at the box office". He also accepts it would have been a shame if Aisholpan's world had not been revealed to a wider audience.

Nigel Andrews in his review in the Financial Times last December wrote that the action and dialogue seemed "a little set up". He was particularly suspicious of a montage of grumpy elderly men filmed tut-tutting over the idea of a woman taking up eagle hunting. But while the academic Adrienne Mayor suggests Bell went searching for these naysayers in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in Andrews' latest article about the film Bell says he just went round knocking on elders' doors, and all openly voiced disapproval. So he put them in the film.

Meghan Fitz-James - a Canadian traveller who spent time with Aisholpan's family and who has become the film's harshest critic - also says that one scene showing Aisholpan training for the eagle festival was in fact shot three days later, in a four-hour shoot with coaching and retakes.

But the fundamentals of the film are confirmed by Aisholpan herself.

"I started to train when I was 10 years old, going into the mountains with my dad," she told the BBC, while passing through Ulaanbaatar recently. "I told my dad that I wanted to become an eagle huntress."

That was in 2011 - two or three years before Svidensky arrived on the scene - and she wasn't just training with the eagle, she was already hunting too, she says.

Aisholpan also confirms that she was aware some men thought a girl was not strong enough to hold an eagle, that she should stay at home, and would not be able to stand the cold hunting for hours in winter in the Altai mountains.

"The pressure gave me more will and power. It gave me the inspiration to win," she says.

But the curmudgeonly views of these mostly elderly men were not expressed at the eagle festival, where officials and competitors were supportive, she says. After her win in 2014 (captured on film) she was greeted by loud cheers when she competed again in 2015 and 2016.

Watching the film, a cynical viewer may fear that Aisholpan has been coached when she says: "Girls can do anything if they try." But she says the same thing off-screen too: "I am happy that I have won a man's competition. It shows how strong women are."

Who would not be proud, in her position, to have beaten grown men with years of eagle-hunting experience? Any telling of her story would carry a female empowerment message, even if this film does milk it for all its worth.

Despite her criticisms of the film, the historian Adrienne Mayor agrees that Aisholpan is a worthy heroine.

"Her bravery and her feats in that eagle hunting contest are really amazing and inspiring," she says. "That would have been enough in the film."

Additional reporting by Grace Brown in Ulan Bator, and Mike Wendling in London

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REYNAGA: 'The Eagle Huntress' inspires, moves audiencesThe Daily Nebraskan, February 3

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Travel

Mongolia hopes to attract high-spending Arab tourists

February 2 (news.mn) Mongolia was visited by 404,000 tourists in 2016; 153 thousand of them from China. Although a relatively small number of Arab tourists visited the country, they spent a considerable amount of money; according to D.Oyunkhorol, Minister of Environment and Tourism, no less than MNT15 billion per month!

On Wednesday 1st of February, the Economic Standing Committee discussed the development of the Mongolian tourism sector. At the meeting, MP's backed road construction projects connecting top tourist destinations with Ulaanbaatar. The project includes modern roads from Ulaanbaatar to Khuvsgul Lake, the world purest lake, to the Terelj park with its famous 'Turtle Rock'  and Dadal soum in Khentii Province, the birthplace of Chinngiz Khaan.

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Annual "Blue Pearl" International Ice Festival at Khuvsgul Lake Announced for March 3-4

February 2 (GoGo Mongolia) Winter is the best time to visit Mongolia for the annual Blue Pearl International Ice Festival and Tsagaan Sar. 

Blue Pearl International Ice Festival 2017 will take place at Khatgal village, the southern shore of lake Khuvsgul on Mar 3-4th or the fifth and sixth day of Tsagaan Sar, enabling you to experience Tsagaan Sar celebration visiting a nomad family. 

The pristine lake Huvsgul stretches for 136km in the Alpine-like mountains, and the deepest point of the lake is 262m. The lake freezes over from December until April or May revealing fantastic lacy ice patterns. 

The Huvsgul region itself is a home to the Tsaatan – Reindeer Herders of Mongolia, an ethnic group famous for their distinctive lifestyle based on keeping reindeers in the depth of the Taiga.

The event offers traditional horse sled races, reindeer races, skating competitions, and shamanic rituals. Also, there will be an Ice Sculpture Competition – artists will create a winter fairyland on the 2-3m thick, crystal clear ice of the Lake Huvsgul, and various performances by the locals and artists of the local theatre.

Moreover, you may also wish to enjoy a few shots in the Ice Bar with fellow festival goers. 

Hot food and beverages, souvenirs, winter & sports clothing trades will be available for spectators & participants during the festival. And everyone can take part in the horse sledding, Reindeer riding and ice skating etc at small charges that will directly go to the local communities.

The dates of this year's Ice festival: 3-4 March.

Location: Dood Modot Khamar near Khatgal Village, Lake Huvsgul.

Brief program of the Blue Pearl International Ice Festival:

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MPs call for improvements in infrastructure and civil aviation to develop tourism

February 4 (UB Post) MPs call for improvements in infrastructure and civil aviation to develop tourism

Minister of Environment, Green Development and Tourism D.Oyunkhorol held a briefing on tourism development during Wednesday's meeting of Parliament's Economic Standing Committee.

She emphasized that there should be expedited improvement of tourist infrastructure and facilities, especially those providing services between Ulaanbaatar and Khuvsgul, Dadal soum in Khentii Pronvince, and Terelj.

Minister D.Oyunkhorol noted that Mongolia received 404,000 visitors last year, and after enhancing the country's capacity to receive visitors and improve the quality of tourism services, the number of foreign visitors could  dramatically increase.

The Minister pointed out that the state has not helped support the tourism industry for the past 25 years and that the private sector has been solely responsible for improving the industry.

She added that tour companies always ask state authorities to develop the civil aviation sector. The Minister said that there are only a few monopolistic companies that offer  flights within Mongolia, and an environment for free and fair competition should be created to improve domestic flights.

Member of Parliament L.Enkh-Amgalan said that ten gers and a latrine doesn't make a suitable camp, so the state needs to support entrepreneurs engaged in tourism by offering tax facilities, focus on civil aviation sector reform, and enhance the legal environment.

At the end of the briefing, MPs agreed that the Economic Standing Committee should submit a proposal to Cabinet on how to deal with challenges facing the development of tourism.

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Time Travel Turtle: Mongolia's Black Market

February 2 (Time Travel Turtle) They say you can get anything you want here. I'm not surprised. The name alone suggests that's the case. It is, after all, called the Black Market.

Ulaanbaatar's main market may have an ominous name but, in reality, most of it is legitimate. I've heard tales of dodgy money changers and stolen goods behind the counter… but you would have to know where to look to find those things. For most casual visitors, the closest you'll come to any criminal behaviour is a brush with a pickpocket or bag slasher. Even then, it's something that everyone is warned about but I'm yet to come across anyone who's actually been a target.

What really strikes you about Ulaanbaatar's Black Market is how much there is for sale. And what is for sale. This is a market aimed at local Mongolians and seeing what is displayed here makes you realise how different this country is to the rest of the world.

You may remember Nanjilmaa from my previous story about the nomads of Mongolia. She had proudly told me that she made her own clothes and here in the market I see the shelves full of the type of material she – and thousands of other nomadic women – use for traditional outfits.

There are stalls dedicated just to buttons, selling the exact little design that would suit the clothes being made at home.

Further along, through some makeshift corridors and over temporary piping, I see outfits that have already been made, for those who prefer not to sew themselves.

Cold winters out on the steppe mean clothes need to be warm. Of course there are jackets and coats everywhere but my eye catches a table with rows of little boots lined inside with fur.

I have also learned that snuff is quite popular in Mongolia – another way to get through the cold nights in a ger. The snuff bottle can often be a prized family item and there's a collection of colourful bottle of different sizes on display.

There are plenty of stalls selling various types of rope, an essential item for daily life with animals.

And I love the colours and patterns in the larger areas where carpets are for sale, some rolled up and others hanging on the walls made of metal fencing.

As I wander around, careful of my belongings but distracted by all the activity, I'm amazed to see the size of the Black Market here in Ulaanbaatar. The enclosed area I first saw at the entrance goes much deeper than I expected. When I finally pass through it, I find a row of alleyways selling rather mundane household items like buckets and toilet paper.

I turn and walk through streets of even more shops. Hanging from the eaves of the stands are more and more items – scarves, jewellery, shoes, underwear. Workers push past me with trolleys and shoppers lug rugs over their shoulders.

I then come to a large outside area bordered by shipping containers. These are used by stall owners as secure storage overnight so they don't need to transport everything each day. With the extra space in this area, I find bigger items for sale – furniture and long rolls of carpeting, for instance.

Sometimes I get strange looks – I don't think many foreigners come to the markets. The locals probably assume that most who do are just here to look around for the sake of curiosity, rather than to buy something. They would probably be correct.

That shouldn't be a problem, though. This is how you learn about a culture. And coming here is a perfect way to understand a bit more about Ulaanbaatar. The Black Market may have a foreboding name but it's safe enough for visitors. You are more likely to get lost than run into any real trouble.

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Is it safe to travel to Paris after security incident? Why not try Iceland or Mongolia?

February 3 (Derby Telegraph) A "security incident" at the Louvre in Paris today has led the UK Foreign Office to confirm that there is a high threat of terrorism in the French capital.

French police said that a soldier shot a man five times this morning after he launched a machete attack at the famous art museum.

But, if you've got a holiday booked to France, you may well be asking whether or not it is still safe to travel. We have spoken to the Foreign Office and a spokeswoman told us that, while there is a "high threat" of terrorism, this was the case before today's attack.

The Foreign Office website says you just need to be extra vigilant. It states: "There is a high threat from terrorism. Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures."

Thinking of going somewhere else this year?

Here's a list of 15 peaceful (and beautiful) alternative holiday destinations with a low threat of terrorism you could consider booking instead. Plus we tell you how easy (or otherwise!) it is to get there from East Midlands Airport.

4. Mongolia

Mongolia, a nation bordered by China and Russia, is known for vast, rugged expanses and nomadic culture. Its capital, Ulaanbaatar, centres around Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) Square, named for the notorious founder of the 13th and 14th century Mongol Empire.

The threat of terrorism is low although foreigners should avoid going out on foot alone as they can be targeted because of their comparative wealth.

No direct flights from EMA to Mongolia unfortunately.

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How to Experience Traditional Mongolian Culture

by Britany Robinson; lead photo by Susan Portnoy, courtesy The Insatiable Traveler

Part of what makes Mongolian Culture so fascinating is the fact that opportunities to explore it are not handed to you on a silver platter. If you want to have an authentic travel experience in Mongolia (where an estimated 25-40% of the population is nomadic), you simply have to chase it down for yourself.

The nation's capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where most visitors arrive, is chaotic and grey, full of construction smog and traffic. Of course there are some gems to be discovered within the city, such as the Naran Tuul Market and the highly regarded Hazara Indian Restaurant.

But if you want to get a true taste of the beauty of the vast steppe landscape that dictates so much of  traditional Mongolian culture, you must leave the city and venture into the hills that seem to stretch endlessly in all directions. There, you're sure to run into more horses than humans.

The following are some of my favorite aspects of traditional Mongolian culture that shouldn't be missed… even if you have to get a little lost in order to find them!

MONGOLIAN HORSE CULTURE

Mongolians are widely regarded as some of the best horsemen on Earth. Genghis (or Chinggis) Khan had horses to thank for helping him establish the largest empire in history— the Mongol Empire– way back in the 13th century. He once said, "It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse."

But the significance of Mongolian horse culture is not merely part of the country's epic past. Horses remain a vital aspect of day-to-day life for many families living there today. Even now, the horse is widely used for travel, cattle herding, hunting, and sport.

The breeds of horses you'll find in Mongolia are uniquely distinctive. These stout, furry ponies have changed very little since the days of Genghis Khan, and remain highly revered for their strength and stamina.

Most of the estimated 3 million horses that graze across the Mongolia steppe live in semi-feral herds. They're branded by the families that own them, but used intermittently. So they're often left to wander the plains freely.

If you wish to experience the close ties between Mongolians and their horses for yourself, you'll probably want to get on the back of one. You'll find plenty of horseback riding expeditions that leave from Ulaanbaatar.

READ MORE: PRZEWALSKI'S HORSE, THE WILD HORSES OF MONGOLIA

MONGOLIAN EAGLE HUNTING

The ethnic Kazakhs of Western Mongolia have used birds of prey to hunt with ever since the early 15th century. Golden Eagles are often used to help them trap small animals for fur and food. Hunters prefer to use female eagles, which grow larger and stronger than their male counterparts.

Seventy years of communism suppressed this beloved tradition of Mongolian culture, which is also known as Falconry. But still it remains a highly respected sport that many are striving to preserve as a culturally significant pastime.

Falconry is primarily practiced in Western Mongolia, during the months of November through February. The easiest way to experience this custom is to attend the Golden Eagle Festival (a.k.a. Altai Eagle Festival) in Bayan Olgii, which takes place annually in late September or early October.

As depicted in the critically acclaimed documentary The Eagle Huntress, hunters compete with their beloved birds in challenges of speed, agility, and accuracy. Witnessing these proud hunters on horseback, with their massive birds of prey perched on their arms, as you're surrounded by the majestic Altai Mountains… this is an experience of traditional Mongolian culture you'll never forget.

MONGOLIAN THROAT SINGING

Also known as Tuvan throat singing, Khoomei, or Hooliin Chor ("throat harmony"), this distinctive form of overtone singing has been a Mongolian musical tradition for centuries. By modulating the shape of the throat, skilled singers are able to produce two to three pitches simultaneously.

The result is guttural and strange, yet undeniably beautiful, particularly when paired with the backdrop of the great Mongolian steppe. Traditionally, this style was used by nomadic herdsman to communicate with natural and supernatural worlds.

The style was popularized internationally in the 199os by artists such as Huun Huur Tu and Yat Kha. and the documentary Genghis Blues. It was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

As a traveler you can catch throat singing live, along with traditional Mongolian dances, at the National Recreation Center in Ulaanbaatar, where the Tumen Ekh Ensemble performs.

MONGOLIAN NOMADIC CULTURE

One of the most recognizable aspects of traditional Mongolian culture is the yurt, which is known locally as a ger.

These round, sturdy structures provide protection and durability for the wide range of climate conditions that are experienced across Mongolia. But they're also easy to dismantle and pack up when it's time to move elsewhere. Nomadic families still use these wooden-framed structures, which are covered with wool felt.

Spending a night in a ger is an exciting way to experience traditional Mongolian culture. Mongolians are known for their hospitality and will invite you in with a smile. But one should always approach this experience with careful consideration for the local customs.

There are a variety of rules that must be honored when entering and spending time in a ger. These include entering with your right foot first, never passing between the structure's two central pillars, and not pointing your feet towards anyone when sitting.

Many tour companies offer overnight experiences in gers. You'll have the opportunity to sleep inside one of these surprisingly spacious, yet cozy structures. But you'll also be invited to sample traditional Mongolian cuisine, such as mutton and buuz, which are steamed dumplings. But make sure to accept any food with two hands, which is another rule of spending time in a ger!

The scope of Mongolia can be overwhelming. The spacious landscapes are staggering, with rolling hills and snow-topped mountains, with few roads connecting great distances. The intensity of its history seems almost mythical. But Mongolian culture truly comes to life when you meet the people who call this country home today.  

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