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ULAANBAATAR: Polling stations opened throughout Mongolia's cities, townships and prairies on Monday as nearly two million residents were asked to choose a new president amid worries about corruption and the state of the resource-dominated economy.
Most voters expect a two-horse race between the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) candidate Miyeegombo Enkhbold, an investment-friendly career politician, and former martial arts star and resource nationalist Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party.
But Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the breakaway Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) could win enough votes to force a second round in two weeks.
Herders living in Mongolia's countryside, who represent around a third of the population, have already cast ballots at mobile polling booths in an election seen as a referendum on both economic policy and China's role in Mongolia's development.
Remote and landlocked Mongolia, best known as the birthplace of Mongol emperor Chinggis Khaan, is a parliamentary democracy and elected a new government last year. The presidential vote will serve as a crucial barometer of public opinion as the ruling MPP tries to steer the country out of an economic crisis.
Once Asia's fastest growing economies, Mongolia has seen foreign investment and commodity export earnings collapse, leaving it struggling to pay debts following years of generous government spending. The new government secured a $5.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in May after implementing austerity measures.
"The electorate is not happy with IMF taxes and cuts," said Dale Choi, analyst and chief executive of the Altan Bumba Financial Group in Ulaanbaatar, in an emailed note. "But the MPP campaigned hard to explain why Mongolia is where it is now."
Under Mongolia's parliamentary system, the prime minister runs the government but the president has powers to veto legislation and make judicial appointments.
All three presidential candidates have promised to pull the country out of its current crisis, restore the stagnant economy to its former "boom" status, and reassess ties with neighbours, including China.
Enkhbold has run under the slogan "United Mongolia will win". Polling is not permitted during campaigning, but according to a national survey in March, Enkhbold's MPP - which won by a landslide in the parliamentary vote last year - is more trusted when it comes to running the country.
Battulga, who is suspicious of neighbouring China, Mongolia's major investor, also says he will restore Mongolia's "pride" under the slogan "Mongolia will win".
The populist politician, who derives his fashion attire from mafia boss Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" films and owns a Chinggis Khaan-themed amusement park, told Reuters at a recent rally he will win because his heart is "devoted" to Mongolia.
The election has also been played out under the shadow of corruption allegations engulfing all three candidates.
"(Corruption) is coming to such a level, to its tipping point, and where people may vote for completely new people," Ulaanbaatar-based political commentator Jargalsaikhan Dambadarja said. - Reuters...
Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ Early morning on June 26, Mongolians started voting for their fifth president nationwide.
The Mongolian people have three choices – Enkhbold Miyegombo from the Mongolian People’s Party, Battulga Khaltmaa from the Democratic Party and Ganbaatar Sainkhuu representing the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party.
There are 1.978.298 voters on the national level who cast their votes today at 1983 polling places stationed across the country. In the capital city alone, 403 polling places collect the votes of 936.651 voters until 10 PM.
The General Election Commission will collect reports of voter turnout at 12 PM, 5 PM and 10 PM from its sub-commissions, and report to the media.
Chinese steel mills are turning their backs on India and embracing Australia as a source of higher-grade ore for steelmaking.
According to a report from Macquarie Research, Indian exports of iron ore dropped by 53%, to 23 million tonnes (mt) in May, compared to 49 mt in March. The reason? Lower iron ore prices are making it cheaper for Chinese steel mills to buy higher-grade (more than 57% Fe) iron ore, which makes them more productive.
The Port of Port Hedland achieved a record May throughput of 44.7 mt, an increase of 12% from the previous year.
Iron ore prices have slipped below $60 a tonne on concerns about oversupply and weak demand from steelmakers in China, the world's top buyer.
The situation in India is reversed from March, when it was reported the amount of iron ore handled by India's ports more than doubled in the period between April 2016 and January 2017.
The increase in tonnage was partially explained by a resumption in production from India's top iron exporting state of Goa in the summer of 2015, led by Vedanta Resources (LON:VED), after an almost three-year hiatus. Most of that ore has been of the lower-grade variety, with competition for lower grades heating up, says Macquarie, "as most steel mills are focusing on higher grades to increase productivity. Chinese steel consumption has been higher than expected and prevailing steel prices provide for respectable profit margins to these mills," Business Standard reported.
The publication notes that shipments from Goa "have become unviable" with volumes from the east coast getting diverted to domestic markets instead. The Macquarie report expects Indian iron production to grow 8%, but with declining exports, it expects a domestic surplus of 18 mt in full-year 2018, 4 mt more than the 2017 surplus.
The beneficiaries are clearly Australian ports. According to statistics from the Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA), which governs the ports of Ashburton, Dampier and Port Hedland – the world's biggest iron ore port – the PPA had a May throughput of 59.1 million tonnes, 10% more than May 2016. The Port of Port Hedland achieved a record monthly throughput of 44.7 mt, an increase of 12% from the previous year.
Three Australians went on trial in China on Monday along with a dozen other Crown Resorts Ltd (CWN.AX) employees and former employees accused of gambling crimes, following a lengthy probe into how the firm lured Chinese high-rollers to its casinos.
The 19 defendants were formally charged earlier this month, having been first detained late last year, and the trial at Baoshan District Court in the north of Shanghai is expected to reach a fairly swift conclusion.
Melbourne-based Crown is 49 percent owned by billionaire James Packer, and the most senior employee on trial is its Australia-based head of international VIP gambling Jason O'Connor.
Three of the accused, believed to have been junior staff, had been released on bail.
Family members were ushered into the courthouse as they arrived with lawyers in a convoy of cars on Monday morning, and some wore masks. Journalists were barred from attending proceedings.
The case has forced Crown to tear up its strategy of luring wealthy Chinese to the casino hub in the Chinese territory of Macau and instead shift its focus back home.
Crown does not directly run casinos in China. But it relies heavily on Chinese gamblers at its Australian operations, as it had done in Macau until last month when it sold its remaining stake in Macau-focused Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd (MLCO.O) for $1.16 billion.
China has been cracking down on attempts by casinos to woo high-spending Chinese gamblers within China. In 2015 thirteen South Korean casino managers were arrested in China for offering Chinese gamblers free tours, free hotels and sexual services.
The trial is the latest in a series of high-profile cases in China involving foreign firms. British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.L) was fined nearly $500 million in 2014 and food maker OSI saw employees jailed last year.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Engen Tham; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Japanese car parts maker Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Japan.
It is facing billions of dollars in liabilities over its defective airbags, which have been linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide.
Some of the airbags contained faulty inflators which expanded with too much force, spraying metal shrapnel.
US-based Key Safety Systems (KSS) has bought all of Takata's assets, apart from those relating to the airbags.
The $1.6bn (£1.3bn) deal was announced after the Japanese firm filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US, with similar action taken in Japan.
"Although Takata has been impacted by the global airbag recall, the underlying strength of its skilled employee base, geographic reach, and exceptional steering wheels, seat belts and other safety products have not diminished," said KSS chief executive Jason Luo.
More than 100 million cars with Takata airbags, including around 70 million vehicles in the US, have been recalled since concerns first emerged in 2007. It is the biggest safety recall in automotive history.
In January, Takata agreed to pay $1bn (£784m) in penalties in the US for concealing dangerous defects, and pleaded guilty to a single criminal charge.
The firm paid a $25m fine, $125m to people injured by the airbags as well as $850m to carmakers that used them.
But it is facing further legal action in the US and liabilities of 1 trillion yen ($9bn) - including to clients including Honda, BMW and Toyota have been paying recall costs until now.
Trading in Takata shares has been suspended on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and the firm will be delisted late next month.
Small businesses that may be affected by Takata's bankruptcy will get support including loan guarantees says Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko.
Mongolian voters will cast their ballots in a presidential election on Monday.
Three candidates are in the race to choose a successor to incumbent President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj who is retiring after serving two 4-year terms.
Miegombo Enkhbold is the speaker of the parliament representing the governing Mongolian People's Party. Khaltmaa Batulgaa of the largest opposition Democratic Party is a former Cabinet minister. Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party is a former lawmaker in the parliament.
The focus of the election is fiscal reconstruction and growth strategies.
Mongolia recorded double-digit economic growth for 3 years in a row from 2011 by exporting its abundant natural resources such as coal and copper to China.
But Mongolia's economy has declined, mainly due to China's economic slowdown and drops in prices of natural resources. It grew only one percent last year.
Enkhbold is calling for industrial development in the country and use of foreign investments. Batulgaa insists that the government should further involve itself in developing resources and encourage their exports. Ganbaatar pledges to develop agriculture and livestock-farming and step up relief measures for the unemployed.
Polling stations across Mongolia will be open from 7 AM to 10 PM, local time. The general trend of polling should be known as early as Tuesday morning.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN)Four Arab states that have boycotted Qatar have handed the country a list of 13 demands, including some likely to infuriate Doha and exacerbate the region's worst crisis in decades.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt sent Qatar the list -- which includes a demand to shut down the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera news network -- and gave the country 10 days to comply with the demands. CNN's Erin Burnett obtained the list, which Qatari officials said is authentic.
ULAANBAATAR -- Mongolians will vote for a new president on Monday, choosing from among three fresh faces to replace Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, whose second four-year term ends next month.
The race has been led by Miyegombo Enkhbold of the ruling Mongolian People's Party, who is currently chairman of the State Great Khural, the parliament. While Enkbold struggles to extend his lead, rival Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party, is closing in by tapping into young voters' patriotism.
"I will bring back Mongolia's rich resources to the 3 million people of Mongolia," Battulga, also president of the Mongolian Judo Association, said at a rally at a square here in the capital on Thursday. The candidate spoke with passion, and the crowd applauded.
Mongolia's president also serves as the supreme commander of the country's armed forces and possesses veto power over decisions made by parliament.
Enkhbold, the candidate from the ruling MPP, which won a sweeping victory in last year's general election, has served as prime minister. He calls for "unity," for fiscal reforms that he says are in step with global trends and for economic reforms that will be helped by a return of foreign investment.
Although his victory was initially seen as almost certain, he is struggling to gain further ground amid allegations of corruption when he was the mayor of the capital as well as questions regarding his campaign finances and roster of ministers.
Recent polls show Enkhbold and Battulga are neck and neck with support rates of 30% each. Behind them is Sainkhuugiin Ganbaatar, a former head of an association of labor unions, who is seen winning about 10% to 20% of the vote. His support base is mainly seniors. But Ganbaatar has also fallen under a cloud. A video was released of him receiving a donation from a foreign organization.
Although support is growing for Battulga, the successful businessman is also not free from allegations. He has been accused of hiding over $898 million overseas and having deep ties to Russia.
If none of the three candidates wins a majority on Monday, there will be a runoff between the top two. It would be the first runoff since the country held its first presidential election in 1993.
By Terrence Edwards | TSOGTTSETSII, MONGOLIA
A few miles from Mongolia's giant Tavan Tolgoi mine, about 2,000 trucks a day set off across the Gobi desert, delivering coal to China on a road so narrow and ridden with pot holes it has become an accident black spot.
Nearby stand the foundations of a railway meant to connect Tavan Tolgoi to China to the south. The unfinished line would enable cash-strapped, landlocked Mongolia to sell more coal at higher prices to its biggest customer, which could also finance the project.
But despite the obvious economic benefits, the project has become a casualty of the ambivalence Mongolians feel about China's growing influence.
Those feelings loom large over a Mongolian presidential election on Monday.
"It's been left here for two years without any work," said the governor of Tsogttsetsii district, Orgodol Badarch, pointing to a gravel surface where the rails should have been laid, stretching into the distance for more than 200 km (124 miles).
"I'm not sure, but it may have to be rebuilt completely."
Voters will choose between an investment-friendly candidate and a populist "resource nationalist" rival in an election that is a referendum on both economic policy and China's role.
China's share of Mongolia's foreign trade was 68.5 percent from January to May this year, up from 1.5 percent in 1989. China took 90.5 percent of Mongolia's exports from January to May.
China wants Mongolia's coal and copper, and has the cash to build the infrastructure to get it - if Mongolia allows it.
Julian Dierkes, specialist in Mongolian politics at the University of British Columbia, said there was a lot of nationalist language in the party manifestos.
"Most of this must be thinking of Mongolia as united, but also, in part, united against China, even if that is not explicit," he said.
Miyeegombo Enkhbold, standing for the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP), is "open to foreign investment from all countries, that of course includes investment from China", a party official told Reuters.
"The reality for today is we have the supply, China has the demand," he said, while adding that Mongolia had to diversify and "reduce inappropriate dependence" on one country.
Enkhbold's main challenger, from the Democratic Party, is a former martial arts star, Khaltmaa Battulga, who has voiced suspicion about China's aims in a country that was under Chinese domination for centuries, until it gained independence in 1921.
Battulga said in an emailed statement on Thursday that China "is and must be a great partner of ours", but added that "rail and transportation for any country is both a national security and an economic issue".
"The resources will finish in 40 to 50 years and there will definitely be conflict between the Mongolians and the Chinese," Battulga said in a 2014 television interview.
Polling is not permitted during election campaigning, but in a March survey, 24.3 percent said the MPP could best solve problems compared with 10.6 percent for the Democratic Party.
POLITICS OF RAIL
Mongolia's economy has more than doubled in size since 2010, but some regions have seen little benefit and lack running water and reliable electricity.
While growing trade has brought jobs to Tsogttsetsii, poor transport means Mongolian coal is sold at a discount. Deliveries to China earned $66 a ton in April, half the price of shipments from Australia.
The railway track from Tsogttsetsii was meant to have been laid in 2014, but financing dried up. A tentative 2015 pact with China's Shenhua Group and Japan's Sumitomo Corp (8053.T) to develop the mine and the railway was blocked by parliament.
Battulga, transport minister from 2008 to 2012, had favored the wider Russian tracks, arguing that the international standard would leave Mongolia dependent on China. He recently said he'd go along with whatever parliament decided.
A century ago, Chinese warlords used railways to help colonize Inner Mongolia, and some Mongolian nationalists argue a cross-border link could help facilitate a Chinese invasion.
Though driven by Chinese demand, and by a billion-dollar deal to develop the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold deposit now run by Rio Tinto (RIO.AX)(RIO.L), Mongolia's 2011-2013 mining boom encouraged politicians to think about ways to minimize dependence on China, and they drew up plans for rail links to the Russian Far East.
Parliamentarians also passed legislation blocking investment by foreign state-owned firms, aimed at blocking plans by the China Aluminium Corporation (2600.HK)(601600.SS) to acquire the Mongolia-based SouthGobi Resources (SGQ.TO).
But Mongolia can't be choosy. The government has been forced to implement austerity measures to secure a $5.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in May.
Ultimately, economic growth may hold more allure for voters than nationalism, said Sumati Luvsanvandev, head of the Sant Maral Foundation polling group.
"Anti-China sentiment cannot bring support to Battulga. They are interested in economic prosperity," he said of voters.
"They may be suspicious, but they're also quite pragmatic."
(Additional reporting and writing by David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)...
ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (AP) - Mongolians will vote for a new president on Monday in a race pitting a horse salesman against a former judo star and a nationalist wanting to get more from the vast landlocked country's mineral wealth.
The three candidates are seeking to succeed Tsakhia Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party who has served the maximum of two four-year terms. While the nation of 3 million had been an oasis of democratic stability since the end of communist rule nearly three decades ago, its politics have grown increasingly fractious amid an economic crisis and accusations of corruption among the ruling class.
Speaker of the parliament and horse dealer Miyegombo Enkhbold is representing the Mongolian People's Party, which won a landslide victory in legislative elections last year. He faces off against judo champion and business tycoon Khaltmaa Batulgaa of the Democratic Party, with Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party rounding out the field.
It's unclear whether Ganbaatar will be eligible to run after a video surfaced of him accepting a campaign donation from a South Korean citizen.
Sandwiched between Russia and China, resource-rich Mongolia has been roiled by financial upheaval and the increasing draw of China's economic and political influence that competes with its ties with the democratic West, especially the United States.
"This election looks orchestrated from the very beginning, with nomination of candidates in a very strange way," said Sumati Luvsandendev, director of the liberal-leaning Mongolian think tank the Sant Maral Foundation. "I have never seen an election like it."
Enkhbold, campaigning under the slogan of "National unity; Mongolian pride," is widely seen as representing stability at a time when Mongolia is showing tentative signs of recovery from its economic crisis brought about by a dramatic drop in global commodity prices.
He has been tainted by allegations of corruption, however. Last month, an audio tape was leaked to the public purportedly of a 90-minute conversation in 2014 between Enkhbold and two of his party's officials discussing a $25 million bribe to reshuffle government positions.
Batulgaa has campaigned on a "Mongolia First" policy, borrowing the language of U.S. President Donald Trump. His manifesto promises "a patriotic president" seeking "equal cooperation" with neighbors like China, which he has criticized in the past.
His company, "Genco," is one of Mongolia's largest, with businesses including hotels, media, banking, alcohol, horsemeat and a Genghis Khan-themed complex. He was also minister of agriculture between 2012 and 2014 and a former member of parliament, as well as president of the Mongolian Judo Association.
However, he too has been tarnished following an investigation last year by the Independent Authority Against Corruption into an alleged misappropriation of funds for a new railway during his time as minister of transport. Batulgaa is also reported to have various offshore accounts, an increasingly sensitive topic.
Ganbaatar, who like Batulgaa failed to keep his seat in 2016, has been a vocal critic of mining giant Rio Tinto, earning him past popularity. The self-described feng shui master and "Robin Hood" has often claimed the country should get a better deal with the company over its copper and gold mine, Oyu Tolgoi. The mine, 66 percent held by Rio subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources, will account for one third of Mongolia's gross national product by 2020, according to estimates.
Foreign investment in Mongolia has slumped in recent years following weaker commodity prices and high-profile disputes between the government and large investors including Rio Tinto. Mongolia's economy grew just 1 percent last year, down from 17.5 percent in 2011 when it was the world's fastest growing. It now has $23 billion in debt, more than double the size of its economy. Unemployment is roughly 9 percent, with about one in five Mongolians living in poverty.
"Business is difficult," said Erdenechimeg Gunhabaatar, a 26-year-old fruit vendor and father of two. "I really think my government is in a difficult situation, especially with the economic crisis."
"I really hope with the new president, things will get better," Gunhabaatar said.
The country recently secured a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout to stem its financial crisis, with a $500 million bond repayment due in January 2018. Enkhbold's party pledges to continue the IMF's program, including higher taxes and spending cuts, while Ganbaatar has criticized the IMF.
That bailout will likely limit any Mongolian government's room for maneuver over the next several years, said Julian Dierkes, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia.
"The IMF plays a huge role; it locks in certain budgets and raises taxes," Dierkes said.
While a Sant Maral poll earlier this year suggested a strong lead for Enkhbold of the MPP, Luvsandendev says the likelihood of low voter turnout makes the result now "impossible to predict."
At least 50 percent of eligible voters must cast ballots for the election to be valid.
"The youth don't see themselves in the candidates," said Lkhagva Erdene, executive producer of news at independent broadcaster MongolTV. "We and many others feel the only road ahead is the one we pave ourselves."
Saruul Enkhbold contributed to this report....