August 15, 2008 / 11:39 AM / 10 years ago

Olympics-Politics forgotten as Mongolians unite to toast gold

ULAN BATOR, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Mongolia’s first Olympic gold medal achieved in one night what weeks of negotiations could not — a rare moment of political harmony.

Success for 100 kg judoka Tuvshinbayar Naidan prompted leaders from feuding parties to join thousands of revellers in the streets to celebrate their champion.

“Tuvshinbayar Naidan brought the golden medal that Mongolia has been awaiting for many years,” blared a headline in the Daily Newspaper on Friday.

Also long awaited for the landlocked Central Asian nation, whose vast grasslands were home to warrior Genghis Khan, is stable rule, after a June election that was dogged by allegations of fraud and led to political deadlock.

Democratic Party leader Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj challenged the result that gave the ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) a majority government. The two sides have been unable to overcome their differences to convene parliament.

But in a night when the Olympic spirit trumped political ill-will, Elbegdorj locked arms with President Nambariin Enkhbayar and Prime Minister Sanjaagiin Bayar, both of the MPRP, as they sang the national anthem on the capital’s main square.

“I have no words to describe how happy we were. This was an historic event,” said Ulan Bator resident Buuveimaam Tseren, 48. “We were glad to see how our politicians were standing together and were friendly to each other,” she added.

The last time such numbers took to the streets in the capital Ulan Bator at least five were killed as protesters upset at the election result rioted and set fire to the MPRP headquarters.

The night of violence led Enkhbayar to declare a four-day state of emergency, a first for the nation that threw off decades of Soviet influence in 1990 and has since been seen as a model of democracy in Central Asia.

On Thursday, Enkhbayar had the happier task of declaring Naidan a Mongolian labour hero. (Writing by Lindsay Beck in Beijing; editing by Keith Weir) (For more stories visit our multimedia website "2008 Summer Olympics" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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