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Demands for Reform in Faraway Mongolia

December 29, 1989

BEIJING (AP) _ The winds of change sweeping across the Communist world have reached distant Mongolia, where a newly formed organization is demanding democratic reform.

The Mongolian Democratic Union, made up of students, writers, artists and intellectuals, has held two Sunday open-air rallies in the capital Ulan Bator this month, a foreign diplomat there said Thursday.

The diplomat, reached by telephone from Beijing, said the government had not interfered in the peaceful demonstrations and the official press and television carried reports on the rallies, saying they attracted up to 1,000 people. He said there were no reports of arrests.

Mongolia, ruled by Communists since 1921 and long a client state of the Soviet Union, in recent years has cautiously followed the Soviet lead in embracing ″perestroika,″ or reform.

But it appears the recent dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which have been reported in Mongolia’s press, may be reverberating in this sparsely populated nation of vast grasslands and deserts.

Ulan Bator Radio said in a recent broadcast the Mongolian Democratic Union’s 15-member coordinating council had adopted a draft charter and had petitioned the Great Hural, the nation’s parliament, for official status.

Soviet reports said the union was demanding an end to Communist Party influence over government affairs, debate on setting up a multiparty system, a full-time parliament and establishment of a commission to investigate those who supported past repressive regimes. The reports said demonstrators shouted for an end to bureaucracy and special privileges for those in authority.

The size of the union, and the outcome of its bid for legitimacy, were not known, but it appeared to have sympathizers within official quarters.

The party-controlled press, while not outrightly criticizing today’s leaders, prints articles about social and economic problems. The party paper Unen recently noted that thousands of innocent people had been victimized by repression in the past, and demanded ″large-scale legal renewal″ to guarantee the rights and freedoms of Mongolia’s 2 million people.

Unen also wrote that writers in the past had been killed and imprisoned for their social convictions, and called for the state-run Union of Mongolian Writers to be replaced by an independent national pen club.

Ulan Bator Radio also said that at a session of the parliament earlier this month, members were outspoken in criticizing the slowness of economic reform, saying fundamental changes in price and wage systems had yet to be carried out.

The Communist Party, in a plenary session this month broadcast for the first time on television and radio, reasserted its role as the ″political vanguard″ of the nation. But it also said it must ″render active influence on the process of reconstruction in all spheres of social life by renewing itself first.″

Jambyn Batmonh, a former university rector who became party and state leader five years ago, told the plenum Mongolia has ″natural interest in the experiences of reforms and renovation taking place″ in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries.

So far, open criticisms of the party have been directed at the Stalinist purges in the 1930s and 1940s, when the nation’s religion and culture were suppressed, and the forced collectivization policies of Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal, ruler for 40 years until his ouster in 1984.

The foreign diplomat said direct attacks on current leaders are still avoided, and the Mongolian Democratic Union is working within existing legal frameworks, ″not wishing to break from the mold.″

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