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Monday, March 6, 2017

[Khuraldai bonds rise; Fitch warns banks still under pressure; PDAC begins; and Mongolian wins World Para Powerlifting gold]

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Monday, March 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

·         Mongolia gets new lease of life with bond

·         Kincora issues shares for services and debt, and is attending PDAC

·         Xanadu Mines: Corporate Presentation, March 2017

·         Viking Mines: Notice of General Meeting and Explanatory Statement

·         Rio Tinto appoints Group executive, Legal

Local Market

·         MSE Top 20 +1.19%, ALL +0.64%, Turnover ₮20 Million Shares, ₮41.3 Million T-Bills

Economy

·         MNT ends 2-day week up 0.02% vs USD

·         BoM issues ₮555 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding -8.9% to ₮555 billion

·         An Analysis of Mongolia's Resource-Led Development: the Impact of Foreign Direct Investment in the Extraction Industry

·         Fitch: Mongolian Banks Still Under Pressure Despite IMF Deal

Politics & Legal

·         Parliamentary working group to investigate Mongol Bank

·         Mongolia's Crisis Averted—For Now

·         Mongolia struggles through financial instability

·         LehmanLaw: Human Rights Development in Mongolia

·         CITA International Motor Vehicle Inspection Committee: A new member from Mongolia

·         92,885 herders to receive wool incentives

·         Jargal Defacto: Debt drama

·         AmCham Daily Newswire for March 3, 2017

Business

·         Study tour and business program to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel on "Start up and business ecosystem development: Best practices"

·         Sixth Mongolia London Business Forum, 5 April, London

·         Genetic and virulence characterization of classical swine fever viruses isolated in Mongolia from 2007 to 2015

Ulaanbaatar

·         Third Ulaanbaatar Book Exchange Day Held on Saturday

·         27,697 passengers traveled to countryside during Tsagaan sar

·         Effective traffic regulation for Tsagaan Sar proves popular

Diplomacy

·         Mongolia: Positioned for Belt and Road Benefits

Health & Education

·         Health Minister attends "She Decides" international conference in Brussels

·         Mongolian physicist strives to introduce hyperthermia therapy for cancer

Culture & Society

·         Watch a Fox Being Hunted From an Eagle's Perspective

·         Herder households affected by Dzud have received humanitarian aid

·         MISSION TO MONGOLIA: Local teen prepares for adventure of a lifetime

Nature & Environment

·         Birding Mongolia: First Day Out, January 31, 2017

·         Geochronological data of igneous and metamorphic rocks from the Xing'an-Mongolia Orogenic Belt of the eastern Central Asian Orogenic Belt

Sports

·         Mongolian wins gold at World Para Powerlifting World Cup

·         Mongolian hockey team breaks own record

·         Mongolian athletes participating in draughts World Cup

·         Meet the Man Who Walked Across Mongolia and Madagascar

·         Moscow to Beijing: Russia's 'Forrest Gump' to run 5,000 miles in 200 days

Art & Entertainment

·         Exhibition: 'Art and Satisfaction in Mental Action'

Travel

·         Mongolia: Still in the Grip of Genghis

·         The Mongolian Hair-Cutting Ceremony 2017

·         Ten truly remote places where your boss can't track you down

·         U of Vermont: Map to Mongolia

·         Indy Guide Mongolia Trips:

 

 

ARTICLES

Int'l Market

Mongolia gets new lease of life with bond

Mongolia has managed to escape from the brink of default with a hugely popular $600m new money plus exchange offering, as investors took heart from the recent bailout from the lnternatiional Monetary Fund.

March 3 (GlobalCapital) The transaction was widely expected given Development Bank of Mongolia's $580m 5.75% notes, guaranteed by the government, fall due this month. And with the repayment looming, the sovereign took the decision to issue notes directly this time around to refinance the outstanding debt.

Mongolia executed the deal as an exchange plus new money offering, asking existing holders of DBM's notes to swap their debt for the new bonds.

"The government's objective was to get the maximum take-up on the exchange and they wanted a balance between price and size," said a syndicate banker close to the deal. "And the result of the exchange showed it was a great success."

The tender offer expired at 5pm central Eastern time on Wednesday, with noteholders agreeing to exchange $475.989m - or about 82.07%.

"Typically, any take up of more than 50%-60% is considered high," added the banker. "And the sovereign seeing 82% is really good."

He admitted that such a strong response was expected when the exchange and new money outing was announced in mid-February, given very good feedback from the market. This set the stage nicely for leads Credit Suisse and JP Morgan to launch the new deal on Thursday morning, capped at $600m -with a new money portion of $124m.

The seven year liability management exercise was opened with guidance at the 8.25% area and a fixed coupon of 8.75%. Demand was robust, with the final order book totalling about $3.3bn.

"There were two camps of investors," said the banker. "One included accounts that hold the existing bonds and want to take up some of the new money portion. The other group don't hold any of the old bonds but want to participate in the new deal. So you can imagine how hard allocation was as the deal was capped."

Perfect timing

Mongolia opted not to boost the size of its bond but went for a prudent approach, given the chunk of the proceeds are to repay DBM's outstanding notes and the remaining to refinance other existing

debt.

The most relevant comparable was Mongolia's $500m 10.875% 2021s, issued last year and spotted at a yield of 6.98% ahead of launch. The sovereign's 2022s, meanwhile, were spotted at 6.60% - meaning the country's curves are inverted.

And as it went for a seven year this time around, feedback from investors centred on fair value of 8% or below 8%. In line with that, Mongolia sold its 2024s at a yield of 7.625%, or at 106.016.

Caa1/B-/B- rated Mongolia went with a seven year in a bid to stagger out its debt profile, given it already has dollar bonds maturing in 2018 and 2021. By selling a 2024, the country won't have multiple bonds falling due simultaneously, added the banker.

"It was a tremendous success for the sovereign and IMF, especially as the new bonds were priced through fair value," he said. "The leads managed to deliver on all the objectives and the government is

happy with the outcome.

US accounts were allotted 76°/o of the 144A/Reg S bonds, Europe 18% and Asia the remaining 6%. Fund managers gobbled up 90%, public institutions 7%, insurance/banks 2% and others 1%.

Mounting pressure

Mongolia's fundraising came on the back of rising scrutiny and debt pressure, which was somewhat eased after the IMF lent a helping hand. In mid-February, IMF announced that the government had agreed to a financial programme supported by a three year extended fund facility of SDR314.5m ($440m).

The Asian Development Bank, World Bank and other partners have also agreed to support Mongolia with up to $3bn, and China is expected to extend its Rmb15bn ($2.2bn) swap line with the Bank of Mongolia for at least another three years.

In total Mongolia can expect about $5.5bn in support, with the financing package subject to confirmation of financing assurances and approval from the IMF's executive board. The board is expected to consider Mongolia's request in March.

Mongolia was hit with a rating downgrade from Fitch and Moody's in November. And in August, S&P lowered the sovereign's rating from B to B-.

Given all the negativity, Thursday's bond was all the more important for Mongolia. The notes rallied on Friday with the new cash portion trading at 107.5 or a yield of 7.35%.

Link to article

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KCC jumped 18% on Friday to C$0.59, +38.8% YTD

Kincora issues shares for services and debt, and is attending PDAC

  • Remuneration aligned to shareholders: 254,112 shares issued to technical committee and directors  
  • Debt conversion to HPX Techco Inc.: 186,831 shares issued for cash loans made during the course of the IBEX transaction
  • Initial field season activities continue, management attending PDAC with further marketing aimed at increasing awareness of the transformational transaction, new technical team, and exploration and expansion strategies outlined in the last quarter   

VANCOUVER, March 2, 2017 /CNW/ - Kincora Copper Limited (the "Company") (TSXV:KCC). Further to its news release of November 14, 2016 the Company announces the issuance of 254,112 shares (the "Services Shares") at a deemed price of $0.425 per share to certain directors, officers and service providers on account of services rendered during the period October 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.  The Services Shares are subject to a 4-month hold period expiring June 23, 2017.

The Company also announces the issuance of 186,831 shares (the "Debt Shares") to HPX Techco Inc., an affiliate of High Power Ventures, at a deemed price of $0.345 per share.  As detailed in the Company's news release of December 7, 2016, the Debt Shares are being issued in repayment of loans totalling US$48,576 made during the course of the IBEX Transaction.  The Debt Shares are subject to a 4-month hold period expiring July 2, 2017.

Sam Spring, President and CEO, stated: "Following the IBEX transaction and appointment of the new technical team, Kincora has implemented remuneration packages where the technical committee and board receive over 70% of total compensation in shares, issued quarterly in arrears.

The team in place has a unique track record of Tier 1 copper porphyry success, expansion and operating activities in Mongolia, and such remuneration packages provides skin in the game, remuneration aligned with shareholders and supports capital constrained budgets maximizing value add activities. The Company also has high insider ownership with the board, technical and advisory teams representing over 45% of outstanding common shares.

As initial field season activities continue and preparations advance looking to drill two targets with geological models analogous to the nearby large scale copper mines, Kincora is attending PDAC, with further marketing later in the month to increase awareness of our exploration and expansion strategy following completion of the IBEX transaction only last quarter".

Kincora has  50,606,622 shares and 2,947,500 warrants outstanding. The warrants have an exercise price of $0.54, expire November 28, 2018 subject to potential acceleration of the expiry date under certain circumstances.

Upcoming Events

MARCH 5-10th, 2017 
TORONTO - Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) 2017

MARCH 13-16th, 2017
LONDON - Non-Deal Roadshow

MARCH 28th, 2017
HONG KONG - Presentation - Asian Mining Club

MARCH 29-30th, 2017
HONG KONG - 121 Mining Investments

For further details or to meet management please contact: enquiries@kincoracopper.com

Recent Materials

KINCORA PRESENTATIONExpanding along an emerging world class copper belt

http://kincoracopper.com/sites/default/files/corporate_presentations/20170215%20Kincora%20Corporate%20Presentation_1.pdf

PROACTIVE INVESTORS

Interview with President & CEO:

http://www.proactiveinvestors.com/companies/stocktube/6934/kincora-copper-boss-keen-to-get-drills-turning-in-mongolia-within-six-months-6934.html

Article:  Will Kincora Copper be the next 10 bagger copper explorer?

http://www.proactiveinvestors.com/companies/news/173194/will-kincora-copper-be-the-next-10-bagger-copper-explorer-173194.html

Link to release

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XAM trading +2.3% Monday at A$0.225, +7.14% YTD

Xanadu Mines: Corporate Presentation, March 2017

Unlocking Mongolia's Copper-Gold Belts

March 6, Xanadu Mines Ltd. (ASX:XAM) --

Link to preso

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VKA trading +5.3% Monday at A$0.02

Viking Mines: Notice of General Meeting and Explanatory Statement

March 3, Viking Mines Ltd. (ASX:VKA) --

Link to release

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TRQ closed flat Friday at US$3.32, +2.79% YTD

Rio Tinto appoints Group executive, Legal 

March 3 -- Rio Tinto has appointed Philip Richards as Group executive, Legal.

Philip will have responsibility for all Group legal services and will join the Rio Tinto Executive Committee. He has been acting in the role since December 2016 on secondment from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where he was a senior partner specialising in corporate law. 

Philip has extensive experience in governance, corporate advisory and transactional work. This includes four years running Freshfields' office in Italy, and leading the firm's financial institutions group. His previous experience includes acting for a broad range of global companies including Barclays, Tesco, Prudential, LSEG, Liberty Global and Swiss Re. 

Rio Tinto chief executive J-S Jacques said "Philip has demonstrated in his time with us that his significant almost 40-year experience in legal affairs will be a real asset for our company. He has quickly embraced the strong Rio Tinto culture and I am very pleased to have him join our team."

Link to release

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Local Market

MSE Trading Report, March 3: Top 20 +1.19%, ALL +0.64%, Turnover ₮20 Million Shares, ₮41.3 Million T-Bills

March 3 (MSE) --

Link to report

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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, March 3 Close

 

3/3

3/2

2/24

2/23

2/22

2/21

2/20

2/17

2/16

2/15

High

Date

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/e147de94-098c-41fc-a613-e68b961bc287.png

USD

2,470.25

2,470.84

2,470.83

2,473.63

2,476.02

2,479.84

2,482.29

2,483.11

2,483.39

2,482.58

2,498.75

1/10/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/7fff4ee5-d12c-4bd2-8a56-d47fa1ab5b0d.png

EUR

2,598.95

2,604.14

2,617.84

2,608.32

2,601.68

2,623.05

2,635.45

2,645.75

2,635.37

2,625.20

2,681.43

11/10/2016

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/73256f8e-4c86-438d-9d39-350646eb7f40.png

JPY

21.62

21.64

21.92

21.85

21.83

21.84

21.94

21.89

21.79

21.68

23.49

11/9/2016

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/170ec7e9-2636-4b7d-a624-7ae9fef54841.png

GBP

3,030.01

3,035.80

3,100.15

3,086.72

3,091.68

3,082.44

3,085.98

3,100.91

3,100.51

3,092.30

3,183.26

8/13/2014

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/a481156f-5e01-436d-b063-c22ecd3ed0dd.png

RUB

41.91

42.33

42.67

42.73

42.99

42.85

42.75

43.06

43.35

43.78

54.32

6/27/2014

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/56dc9518-41a5-4bb4-9d57-167f6de07f2e.png

CNY

357.85

359.01

359.62

359.70

359.97

360.12

361.01

361.45

361.91

361.47

363.02

1/5/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/ab781b89-2767-4b9c-b3cb-b3c6cc603016.png

KRW

2.13

2.16

2.18

2.17

2.17

2.17

2.16

2.16

2.17

2.18

2.18

2/6/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/9a4a44a5-6be7-4141-8159-5aa30a12bb45.png

SGD

1,746.44

1,751.75

1,758.66

1,750.00

1,744.60

1,745.63

1,751.17

1,752.25

1,749.54

1,746.21

1,758.66

2/24/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/53fdb4a8-f38e-4f01-b01a-c2dee4a6895d.png

CAD

1,844.09

1,850.82

1,888.08

1,881.52

1,883.12

1,886.74

1,896.62

1,899.42

1,902.40

1,899.45

1,908.84

1/18/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/6ec5578f-dca9-4257-b326-e755e3b2400b.png

AUD

1,866.15

1,892.17

1,906.25

1,902.35

1,905.17

1,900.55

1,907.02

1,911.00

1,913.20

1,904.64

1,913.20

2/16/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/d6b9f8ce-b8d2-4ce7-bdce-b85ce1812325.png

HKD

318.18

318.29

318.40

318.78

319.03

319.52

319.84

319.94

319.99

319.89

322.21

1/10/2017

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4296ba475e0a2fd5de8e5bee5/images/ae638f8b-a29a-4d70-90b3-52ad2a79d482.png

CHF

2,439.39

2,445.65

2,456.83

2,447.81

2,446.66

2,464.93

2,475.24

2,486.34

2,473.00

2,464.96

2,497.77

11/09/2016

Bank USD rates at time of sending: Khan (Buy ₮2,458 Sell ₮2,472), TDB (Buy ₮2,460 Sell ₮2,474), Golomt (Buy ₮2,458 Sell ₮2,472), XacBank (Buy ₮2,462 Sell ₮2,473), State Bank (Buy ₮2,458 Sell ₮2,474)

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

Link to rates

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BoM issues 555 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding -8.9% to 555 billion

March 3 (Bank of Mongolia) BoM issues 1 week bills worth MNT 555 billion at a weighted interest rate of 14.0 percent per annum /For previous auctions click here/

Link to release

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An Analysis of Mongolia's Resource-Led Development: the Impact of Foreign Direct Investment in the Extraction Industry

By Belguun Bat-Erdene

A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco, Master's Program in International Studies, November 23, 2016

Link to thesis

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Fitch: Mongolian Banks Still Under Pressure Despite IMF Deal

Link to Fitch Ratings' Report: Mongolia Bank Report Card

Fitch Ratings-Hong Kong-05 March 2017: Mongolian banks will remain under pressure from asset-quality weakness and stricter enforcement of regulations, Fitch Ratings says, even though the sovereign's recent IMF staff-level agreement is likely to reduce financing risks and help stabilise the economy. 

The proposed IMF programme has helped provide Fitch with sufficient confidence that Mongolia (B-/Stable, affirmed on 20 February) can meet its immediate external debt obligations, and is also likely to reduce some of the short-term macroeconomic risks faced by Mongolian banks, such as a further collapse in the Mongolian tugrik. The three Fitch-rated banks (all 'B-'/Stable) have ratings that are driven by their standalone intrinsic strength, and have become less reliant on funding from the government in recent years. However, they have large exposure to government-related entities, equivalent to as much as 2.4x of equity in the case of State Bank. 

External financing support to the sovereign should help banks to maintain access to funding from international financial institutions. This is particularly important for Khan Bank and XacBank, which have a large proportion of wholesale funding. We expect banks to continue to use foreign-currency swap facilities provided by the Bank of Mongolia (BOM), due to limited swap counterparts, but they are likely to pivot toward market-based arrangements.

We maintain a negative sector outlook for Mongolian banks, as the weak operating environment continues to put pressure on their financial profiles. Asset quality is likely to deteriorate further at banks with higher exposure to the most vulnerable borrowers - those in the mining, wholesale/retail and manufacturing sectors, for which banks' impaired loan ratios were 17.9% at end-2016, compared with 8.5% for total loans. 

We do not expect BOM's asset-quality review - which is linked to the IMF programme and is likely to conclude in 2017 - to reveal significant capital shortfalls at Fitch-rated banks. However, it is likely to emphasise forward-looking provisioning, early loss recognition and accurate collateral valuation, which could create additional credit costs and weigh on banks' profits. Profit will also be constrained by weak loan growth, which we only expect to recover in the medium term, if the economy stabilises. The phasing-out of low-margin government-subsidised lending is unlikely to fully offset these drags on profit.

Tighter enforcing of laws and regulations, in particular around connected exposures, could also create some strains in the banking sector. Two local banks, controlled by the same shareholder, that are not rated by Fitch - Trade and Development Bank of Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar City Bank - have allegedly exceeded a limit of 20% of total capital that can be loaned to a single borrower. We believe potential spill-over risks to be manageable for Fitch-rated banks, as they are not significantly exposed to those banks or to the identified large borrower.

For more details, see our report "Mongolia Banks Report Card", available at www.fitchratings.com or by clicking the link above.

Link to release

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Politics & Legal

Parliamentary working group to investigate Mongol Bank

March 5 (UB Post) A parliamentary working group established to investigate and regulate the operations of Mongol Bank started their work on February 23.

The working group was established on February 1. MP T.Ayursaikhan is heading the group, whose membership includes MP M.Oyunchimeg, MP Ts.Davaasuren, MP. Kh.Bolorchuluun, MP J.Bat-Erdene, and MP S.Chinzorig.

MP T.Ayursaikhan told journalists on February 23 that the working group had their guidelines approved and that they were starting their investigation.

The working group will draft a resolution based upon the findings of their investigation, and will present the resolution to Parliament's Economic Standing Committee. The inner workings of Mongol Bank's operations, such as their regulation of the MNT, their price stabilization program, and other activities will be probed by the working group.

Members of the working group stated that they are aware of reports that the central bank printed eight trillion MNT in notes to manipulate currency in circulation, and will work to verify that the reported number is accurate.

Mongol Bank's operational deficit will also be investigated. In the past four years, the bank's deficit has doubled every year. In 2016, the bank reported a deficit of 962 billion MNT. The working group will investigate the reasons for the deficit, as the deficit of the bank puts pressure on the state budget.

"Until 2011, the bank was working profitably. It experienced a deficit in 2010 but was profitable in most years. But in 2012, Mongol Bank began experiencing significant deficit. We will investigate and reach a conclusion," the working group's members stated.

The probe, which will be carried out until April 30, will encompass all of the operations of the bank, including commercial loans that were issued that have been alleged to be illegal, the bank's transparency, and their financial statements.

A few members of the working group made statements regarding their investigation.

MP Ts.Davaasuren

"The reason for the economic crisis and hardship can be closely linked to Mongol Bank. The bank diminished the strength of the MNT and increased the exchange rate. In 2012, the USD exchange rate was at 1,450 MNT. Currently, it is around 2,400 MNT. This is a 70 percent increase, leading to a significant decrease in the purchasing power of the MNT. This has increased poverty and led to a 70 percent economic decline.

"Mongol Bank violated laws and issued commercial loans to private businesses. It gave tens of billions of MNT to its workers in the form of apartments and bonuses. This information was concealed but will now be clear. The President of Mongol Bank for the last four years was someone who sat there and said that the exchange rate did not matter to us. The president said that the funding received through a swap agreement was not a loan. In 2014, non-performing loans were at 200 billion MNT; now they are at 900 billion MNT. Businesses cannot pay back their loans. Citizens do not have purchasing power."

MP M.Oyunchimeg

"The working group's main priority is to determine a correct diagnosis; only then can we decide how to treat the problem. Our country has had to establish a difficult agreement with the International Monetary Fund, increasing taxes and decreasing salaries and welfare.

"Our goal is not a witch hunt; our goal is to expose violations and to amend the Law on Mongol Bank accordingly."

Link to article

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Mongolia's Crisis Averted—For Now

Author: Andrew BauerDavid MihalyiDorjdari Namkhaijantsan

March 3 (National Resource Governance Institute) Last week, the Mongolian government announced a USD 5.5 billion bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and partners the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the governments of Japan and South Korea. The Mongolian government has also signed an extension of its central bank swap agreement—essentially a line of credit—with China's central bank.

In return, Mongolia approved a limited and revenue-focused set of reforms. Budget amendments to be passed in March include increases in personal income tax rates; increases in fuel, alcohol and tobacco taxes; and a public service wage freeze.

In some sense, an agreement with the IMF was necessary. The Development Bank of Mongolia (DBM), a state-owned bank deeply in the red and guaranteed by the government, must repay USD 580 million to mainly foreign creditors this month. Without an IMF agreement, it is likely that the DBM would have defaulted on this or the next repayment, due in January 2018. Such an event would have cut Mongolia off from international lending and could have precipitated a banking crisis.

But are the reforms tied to the bailout right for Mongolia? Will they turn Mongolia around, setting up the country for long-term growth and prosperity?

NRGI has released a macro-fiscal model of Mongolia's economy that should help answer these questions. The model, a year in the making, links specific mineral projects to macroeconomic indicators such as GDP growth, budget surpluses and debt levels. As a next step NRGI analysts and consultancy Gerege Partners are preparing a full analysis of the IMF program to better understand its implications.

Three findings emerge from our projection and scenario analysis conducted with the model. (Analysis took place before the announcement of the bailout package, but the bailout should not affect these conclusions.)

1. Mongolia is facing a solvency crisis—not a short-term liquidity crisis due to drop in commodity prices

As a result of swelling deficits since 2007, debt levels are approaching Mongolia's debt sustainability limits, as demonstrated by the government's astronomical interest rates on foreign borrowing and our macro model. Interest payments on public debt alone were greater than MNT 1 trillion (more than USD 400 million) in 2016; that's more than the government spent on healthcare for the whole country.

Results from the baseline scenario of the model confirm that the current trajectory of Mongolia's public finances is unsustainable in the absence of radical measures—stopgap interventions by the IMF and Mongolia's other partners notwithstanding. Assuming that the current short-term liquidity pressures are resolved (i.e., rolled over, maturities lengthened), that the external environment remains accommodating and domestic growth picks up rapidly, and no major changes in government policy, our model projects debt spiraling upward as of 2025. Without a significant cut in debt through debt restructuring and permanent budget adjustment measures—not just a shrinking of the deficit or short-term bailout of the kind offered by the IMF program—Mongolia will find it hard to return to a sustainable debt path and prosper.

2. The mineral sector will not generate large enough revenues to cover future budget deficits

Results from our model show that, while the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine and Tavan Tolgoi coal mine (along with other mines) will generate just enough additional revenues between 2019 and 2024 to stabilize the deficit at its current very high levels, deficits will widen rapidly again thereafter. New mineral projects will not solve Mongolia's debt sustainability challenge. Attracting new mineral investments remains difficult globally. And even if new mining deals are rushed through, it will be decades before major revenues materialize, if ever, as we've seen with the existing mega-mines in Mongolia. It is highly unlikely that new production will save Mongolia from exploding debt levels over the medium term.

3. The composition of the bailout package matters

We will release projections of the IMF program's impact on the Mongolian economy shortly. However an initial assessment of the fiscal measures proposed suggests a focus on revenue generation and hard-to-enforce governance reforms rather than a needed reprioritization of spending.

Reform of medical procurement, establishment of an independent fiscal council and ensuring that the central bank stops financing programs off-budget (such as the mortgage loan program) are promising avenues (though much depends on implementation).

On the other hand, increases in personal income tax rates on higher incomes and social security contributions will harm the already overstretched non-mining private sector. Increases in alcohol and tobacco taxes are likely to hurt the poorest the most. Meanwhile lavish government spending—especially on a plethora of politically motivated local infrastructure projects—will remain intact or face only marginal reductions. Our model will demonstrate the impacts of these different policy choices on growth, household consumption and debt reduction, and compare them to other potential packages.

What next?

Since 2007, the government has been spending as if mineral revenues could transform the country into a Far Eastern version of Dubai overnight. However, Dubai utilized its natural resource revenues in line with a well-conceived economic diversification plan; in contrast, Mongolia has spent much of its windfall on public sector wage bill hikes and small infrastructure projects around the country.

These choices have led to tough decisions for government officials. We are concerned that the government and its international backers repeating a critical mistake: assuming that future mineral revenue growth will save the country. Unrealistic mineral revenue expectations got Mongolia into trouble; such expectations will keep Mongolia there. The IMF program may be delaying the pain by a few years, which could prove a valuable opportunity to rethink the country's growth strategy. Or, it could be just another episode in a continuous cycle of booms and busts. Our aim is that our new model can help the government and citizens alike chart a course for a meaningful exit from unsustainable debt.

Andrew Bauer is a senior economic analyst with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). David Mihalyi is an economic analyst with NRGI. Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan is NRGI's Mongolia manager.

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Mongolia struggles through financial instability

By GARY KLEIMAN

March 4 (Asia Times) Mongolian shares rose 4% in March according to Bloomberg's top company index, after the IMF extended another multi-year bailout for $440 million which can unlock an immediate additional $3 billion from bilateral and multilateral partners. China, which receives 90% of its neighbor's mineral exports, will bolster a $2 billion currency swap as part of the package, coming just five years after expiration of 2009's post-crisis program.

With its 85% of GDP public debt, the country faced imminent default on an almost $600 million Development Bank Mongolia (DBM) external bond repayment due this month, as headline mining ventures unraveled over investor commercial disputes and alleged corruption and political favoritism. The new government in power, led by the Mongolian People's Party, has promised to restore economic stability and creditworthiness and more business-friendly policies through the Fund plan, but protracted banking system and fiscal cleanups may exhaust multinational company and average citizen patience.

The Fund announcement described long-term agriculture and tourism diversification scope alongside natural resource wealth but criticized "ineffective" spending by the government to offset commodity price and foreign direct investment collapse. GDP growth "stagnated" at 1% in 2016, with high debt and low international reserves, which dipped to $1 billion or four months imports.

The currency lost one-quarter its value against the dollar, and a diplomatic spat with Beijing over hosting the Dalai Lama resulted in administrative and tariff penalties at year-end. The population went into a harsh winter with livestock decimated by frigid temperatures. Then there were claims that officials had requested donations to help pay off overseas obligations. Nature was unusually unkind as disease ravaged rare antelope, which drew appeals from global conservation groups.

In the mining sector, which accounts for one-quarter of output, the long impasse was ended in principle over royalties and management control at copper venture Oyu Tolgoi, operated by cross-border giant Rio Tinto. However the timetable for the project's second phase has slipped, and private funding initially secured may have to be renegotiated with rising world interest rates. The fate of a $400 million sale of a Russian stake in state company Erdenet to a politically-connected Mongolian investor by the previous government is even more precarious. The parliament annulled the deal in February and called for renationalization amid charges the specialist Trade Development Bank may have been an illegal hidden backer. President Elbegdorj complained the action would scare away foreign capital, but acknowledged the need to pursue investigations.

The financial system has been a shambles since independence starting with the central bank, which has been euphemistically engaged in "quasi-fiscal" activities including recent support for $800 million in cheap mortgage loans which had sustained household consumption. The DBM, which provides one-quarter of total credit, carries an unconditional sovereign guarantee for its 2012 external bond as ratings agencies assign the issuers near-default status. The bank's former chief executive was arrested last year for abuse of the proceeds, and the latest Fund arrangement mandates a split between the government and lender, which is to be run commercially according to a new law. A separate statute will overhaul the central bank's governance and enforcement powers, and it is responsible for overseeing recapitalization and restructuring and shoring up the deposit insurance scheme after a comprehensive industry assessment.

Ordinary citizens have organized in anger against DBM, which they accuse of covering up losses and management failure at state coal producer Erdenes TT, whose non-voting shares were distributed to the public in 2010. The Mongolian Stock Exchange was considered a candidate to join MSCI's frontier market roster early in the 2012-14 boom period when cooperation pacts were forged with Hong Kong and London counterparts, but actual trading has stayed quiet in a handful of shares alongside hundreds of nominal listings and an absent local fixed income market. With fiscal consolidation a "key priority" to reduce the 15% of GDP deficit, privatization offerings could inject momentum, but the record to date has been disappointing.

The IMF believes such overdue policy and reform steps can usher in 8% growth and $4 billion in reserves, comparable to the 2012 peak, by end-decade. It predicts mining diversification, and solar and wind power has already drawn investors like Japan's Softbank, and fashion, information and health service have started to appear. However Mongolia also owes $2 billion in external debt before that deadline and without bank and bondholder workouts at home and abroad, it may again fall into the pit.

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LehmanLaw: Human Rights Development in Mongolia

March 3 (LehmanLaw) Mongolia Foreign Affairs Minister Ts.Munkh-Orgil recently spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council where he presented the current human rights policies and measures undertaken by the Government of Mongolia.

Human rights are essential values enshrined in the Constitution of Mongolia, which was one of the original countries to implement the Millennium Development Goal Number 9 as a national plan to improve human rights and promote democratic government.

The Mongolian government's 2016-2020 action plan places a great priority on continued legal reforms based on the preservation of human rights. Mongolia is working toward elimination of the death penalty, and amending the criminal law and other laws to protect the rights of children and the elderly, as well to protect against domestic violence; combat human trafficking; enhance the transparency, accountability, and independence of the judiciary; and fight corruption in the public sector.

Mongolia's commitment to democracy and fairness is a major positive point for many foreign businesses and NGOs operating in Mongolia. As the first international law firm established in the country, LehmanLaw Mongolia is excited to see continued progress and development in this area among many others in Mongolian law and society.

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CITA International Motor Vehicle Inspection Committee: A new member from Mongolia

March 3 (CITA) "The National Road Transport Center" is our new member: this governmental agency is an organization actively practicing in compulsory vehicle inspection of in-service vehicles in Mongolia. It was established as National Transport Authority under the Ministry of Road and Transportation in 2009, and as "National Road Transport Center" under the new management since 2012. They have 21 inspection stations in all "aimag" (provinces) of Mongolia and 4 in UB city.

Their mission is to be a globally recognised organization in vehicle safety inspection, make road transportation safer, meet high international standards and be committed to continuous improvement for customer satisfaction.

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92,885 herders to receive wool incentives

Ulaanbaatar, March 3 (MONTSAME) Members of herder cooperatives and citizens with livestock receive monetary incentives for wool of sheep and camel, if they supply the raw materials to national factories, according to a Parliamentary resolution of 2011 and Government resolution of 2015.

A total of 92.885 herders and legal bodies with livestock in 21 provinces and Ulaanbaatar submitted their requests to get incentive for 20.599 tons of wool to Livestock Protection Fund under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry.

Incentives of MNT22.6 billion have been transferred to herders' bank accounts through Bank of Mongolia, after checking the data.

'Legal environment to give incentives to livestock origin raw materials was created when the Parliament approved resolution No.30 on "Some measures to support national producers and increase jobs" in 2011. This action has brought many positive results. For example, a mechanism to supply wool to national processing factories has been developed, factories get to have sufficient raw materials and production of value-added wool products has been increased. And new processing factories of wool washing, wool thread, felt, insulation material for construction have been established" said director of Livestock protection fund B.Ganzorig.  

The incentive amount of this year has increased by MNT3.3billion compared to last year's. 413 thousand herders have received incentives of MNT112.7 billion for 71 thousand tons of wool since 2011.

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Jargal Defacto: Debt drama

March 3 (UB Post) It has been half a year since Mongolia nearly became insolvent due to its debt. As a result, the government spent six months looking for money abroad. In the end, Mongolia reached an agreement on an IMF extended fund facility program for 440 million USD, which is expected to be followed by three billion USD from Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Japan, and South Korea. Also, China announced that the swap agreement with our central bank would be extended. This brings the total sum of external funding to 5.5 billion USD. Meanwhile, people are demanding that the government disclose how the huge amount of money previously borrowed was spent, which authorities stole it, and who needs to be held responsible. This demand is fully justified because it is the people – not the politicians – who will be paying off the previous and new debt.

Act I: El Dorado

In 2011, Mongolia experienced globally recognized economic growth of 17.6 percent and experienced record-setting currency appreciation. Investors called Mongolia "El Dorado" ("the Golden Nation" in Spanish) because our country gave birth to many national and foreign millionaires, just like other resource-rich countries.

Believing that the fairytale would not end well, the government started taking out huge loans within four months after record growth had been  established. As a result of the 2012 general elections, Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag, who led the Mongolian People's Party and Democratic Party coalition government, and his team issued 1.5 billion USD in bonds and named them "Chinggis". Under Altanomics (Altankhuyag economics), the government continued borrowing in the form of Samurai bonds, Dim Sum bonds, and Development Bank loans with government guarantees. Within five years and through the terms of three different governments, Mongolia's debt of 10 billion USD equaled its national economy. If private sector debt is taken into account, Mongolia's total debt is 1.7 times larger than its economy.

In the beginning, the government spent a whole year paying interest, without knowing how to actually spend the financing. As if they had received a sudden wake up call, the government spent some of the funds on  infrastructure projects which were supposed to be financed by 20 to 30-year development loans. The infrastructure loans were granted to companies that had never built roads before. Having received the money, the companies were actively looking for contractors to do the job. A few months ago, it was announced that the repayment of these loans was only at seven percent, and neither the government (who was accountable for half of the Development Bank's loans) or the companies financed (who were responsible for the other half of the loans) were making loan payments. Where are the people who know where this financing went, by whose decision financing was granted, what was done, and where the rest of the money is?

In order to appear fair and just, the authorities started pretending that they cared for the people and began handing out 20,000 MNT each month to children, using a small part of the loans. The central bank (Mongol Bank) distributed eight trillion MNT to commercial banks in the name of price stabilization and offering mortgage loan financing and also gave some money to private companies, despite not having the right to grant loans.

The repayment date is here, but it is still unclear where the people who granted the loans and those who spent the funds are today. Where could they be? Getting a tan on a beach? What portion of the loans is now in offshore accounts, and in which country?

Act II: Hellas

Our government is unable to pay off its debt today because those who granted, spent, or acted as intermediaries for distribution of funds are nowhere to be found today. In order to avoid declaring insolvency, the government is now attempting to acquire new loans and repay its  previous and new debt by collecting more taxes from the people and the private sector. The Greeks, who call their country Hellas, were in the same situation in 2010. The Hellas government saw its debt grow as large as 1.7 times larger than its economy in 2016 (just like Mongolia), after running a deficit in their state budget for years. Their budget deficit equaled 12.5 percent of its GDP in 2009. Within five years, Greece's economy shrank by 25 percent, while unemployment soared to 26 percent.

The Greeks first froze pay increases in 2010 and then did the same to pensions, and VAT rose from 19 percent to 21 percent. They first increased taxes on fuel, gas, alcohol, tobacco, and luxury goods. The tax increases were  followed by salary reductions for public sector employees. Greece also extended the retirement age for women by five years to 65.

The Greek people protested these austerity measures for 48 hours in two big cities, which ended in three deaths. In 2015, the Hellas budget deficit reached 7.5 percent of its GDP.

In compliance with the IMF's extended fund facility program, Mongolia is going to freeze salaries and pension increases; raise VAT from 10 to 15 percent; increase special taxes on fuel, alcohol, and tobacco; raise personal income tax from 10 to 25 percent in phases; and start imposing special taxes on savings interest income and vehicles. It appears that the government does not have any other choice but to take these measures to repay its debt and revive our economy.

The Greeks point to their two biggest political parties (the left wing New Democracy Party and the right wing PASOK Party) as the culprits responsible for the financial collapse, and they also blame the government's institutions and rules.

Mongolians should also point to our two biggest political parties (the DP and MPP) and the political and economic institutions that only serve the political parties and their associated businesses.

In Greece and Mongolia only a handful of people spend public funds, while the burden of reckless spending is borne  by the people.

Act III: Harare or Helsinki?

The IMF extended fund facility program which is about to be implemented in Mongolia is the only proper choice we had in our current circumstances. This program can be likened to giving a parachute to someone who has no choice but to jump out of a plane. A parachute can help you land better, but where you land is a different matter. Mongolia could jump and land on its feet, like the prosperous five million strong nation of Finland, or like Zimbabwe, which has a population of 14 million but has four million people who have fled their homeland.

Where you land after a bailout depends on two conditions. The first condition is that after the completion of the program, Mongolia becomes a multi-pillared, competitive economy. The second condition depends on whether or not Mongolia is able to improve its governance and carry out government reform. The IMF and other partners have not said a word about the second condition.

If Mongolians build an economy based on free market principles, reduce state ownership or assets, free up prices, and support competition, we will acheive  competitiveness. If the corrupt people who are stealing public funds are stopped and held responsible, we will have the opportunity to strengthen our political institutions and undergo government reform. These two conditions are mandatory to land soundly like Finland.

In other words, these two factors could revive our private sector and foster prosperity. Soon enough, we will see our "national heroes" saying that the reason why we are in the program is not the fault of Mongolians, but the fault of foreigners, and they'll be calling for a fighti against foreign interests. Our key challenges are understanding that the problem lies with Mongolia, not the IMF, and changing our mindset and attitude to reform our governance, turning underground resources into aboveground value, and using our intellectual wealth to enter the global market.

Act II of the Debt Drama begins now.

Translated by B.Amar

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AmCham Daily Newswire for March 3, 2017

GOVERNMENT

E. Bat-Uul announces his bid for the presidential race 

Summary: The presidential election will take place in three months, and parties that have seats in Parliament will announce their candidates for the election. The Democratic Party held a Lunar New Year greetings ceremony and former Mayor of Ulaanbaatar E. Bat-Uul told party members that he would be running in the presidential election. The Democratic Party has not officially selected their candidate for the election. The party's candidate will be chosen by members of the DP through a party-wide election.

Keywords: presidential election, DP | Today /page A2/


ECONOMY

Mongolia caps its new 7-year USD bond

Summary: The Government of Mongolia set the cap for its new USD seven-year bond at 600 million USD.  The holders of 476 million USD in Development Bank's 580 million USD Euro bond agreed to exchange their bonds for the new government-backed Khulardai bond. The notes will be exchanged at par for new bonds yielding 8.75%, the minimum yield that was indicated for the offer. Credit Suisse and JPMorgan are managing the transaction. Development Bank will pay the remainder for its 580 million USD bond by March 21.

Keywords: bonds, Development Bank | Today /page A1/


Balance of payments deficit reaches 175 million USD

Summary: The Bank of Mongolia presented a preliminary report on the balance of payments for January 2017. The current and capital account balances reached a deficit of 2.4 million USD, a decrease of 49.5 million USD compared to the same period last year. The decrease is attributed to a 43.9 million USD decrease in the deficit for goods and services, creating a surplus of 19.4 million USD, and a decrease of 5 million USD in income, creating deficit of 41.3 million USD. As of January 2017, the overall balance of payments deficit reached 175.9 million USD.

Keywords: Bank of Mongolia, balance of payments | Century News /page 5/


MINING

46-day gasoline reserve reported by the MRPA

Summary: The Mineral Resources and Petroleum Authority (MRPA) announced that at the end of February, the nation had a 46 day gasoline reserve available. There is a 12-day reserve of A-80, 76 octane, AI-92, N47 diesel fuel, and TC-1 airplane fuel. The MRPA stated that as of last month, 150,000 tons of crude oil was produced and 147,000 tons was exported out of a planned 1.1 million tons projected for the year. The export of petroleum contributed 18.6 billion MNT to the state's revenue.

Keywords: gasoline, MRPA | Today /page A1/


ONLINE STORY

Mongolia joins Global Consensus on Sustainable Development

Summary: A ceremony for the signing of official documents was held at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN for Mongolia's joining of the United Nation's Global Consensus on Sustainable Development (GCSD). The Mongolian Ambassador to Italy and Permanent Representative of Mongolia at the FAO signed the documents, making Mongolia the 17th country to join at the government level and the 83rd member of the program. The GCSD is designed to improve the livelihoods of herders by develop economic and social environments through sustainable animal husbandry. The GCSD is focused on addressing the food safety, public health, inclusive economic growth, livestock reserves, and the impact of agricultural development on the global environment. By joining the consensus, Mongolia will be able to closely cooperate with GCSD member states to further develop its animal husbandry sector and export goods that meet international standards. The Government of Mongolia is developing its national program to develop the sector and will correspond its efforts with the goals of the GCSD, leading to effective implementation of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Keywords: agriculture, sustainability | www.montsame.mn

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Business

Study tour and business program to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel on "Start up and business ecosystem development: Best practices"

Mongolian Business Database (MBD) www.mongolianbusinessdatabase.com and ConSolWays, Israeli-Mongolian consultation, Solution and business development firm are hosting a Mongolian trade mission to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel for 4 days study visit and business program on "Start up and business ecosystem development: Best practices" between March 25-31.2017.

The study visit program includes the business subjects on Agriculture (Green houses, agriculture export ecosystem) , IT Sector ( international accelerators) , health, communication, banking security, fintec and visits to other related institutions.

Please visit to following link for information in details and contact at contact@mongolianbusinessdatabase.com e mail, 77109911, 99066062 for the registration and inquiry.

The registration will close in March 15, 2017

http://www.mongolianbusinessdatabase.com/base/eventsdetails?id=5

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Sixth Mongolia London Business Forum, 5 April, London

When & Where

Wednesday 5 April, 08:30 — 12.00 @ Bloomberg, City Gate House, 39-45 Finsbury Square, London EC2 A 1PQ

The Mongolian British Chamber of Commerce and Bloomberg invite you to attend the Sixth Mongolia London Business Forum.

We are delighted to announce the agenda which will explore business and investment opportunities in Mongolia and welcome expert and influential speakers from government and industry.

The event will include the first speech in the United Kingdom by the new Mongolian Ambassador to London and former Prime Minister, Ambassador Bayar. He will introduce Davaasuren Damdinsuren, State Secretary at the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mongolia is on the way back and is once again one of the emerging economies to watch. A strong boost to growth  is expected later this year as development work begins on the underground mine at the vast Oyu Tolgoi site.

An announcement  regarding an IPO for the Tavan Tolgoi mine is eagerly anticipated.  A recently negotiated loan deal with the IMF should bring stability to the public finances.

Agenda

08.30

Registration and coffee

09.00

Welcome and introductions

09.10

Keynote speeches 
H.E. Ambassador Bayar of Mongolia and former Prime Minister of Mongolia
Davaasuren Damdinsuren, State Secretary, Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Raphael Goue, Senior Advisor, Erdenes Mongol
Simone Niven, Corporate Relations Group Executive, Rio Tinto

10.00

Coffee break

10.20

Panel discussion
Investing in Mongolia
Eric Rasmussen, Director of Natural Resources, EBRD
Oliver Nicholl, Director of Research Asia, Pacific Investment Partners
Altai Khangai, CEO, Mongolian Stock Exchange
Darko Hajdukovic, Head of Analytics, Fixed Income and Funds, London Stock Exchange Group

11.30

Panel discussion
Doing business in Mongolia
Chris Sheldrick, Director, What 3 Words
Onchinsuren Dendevsambu, Managing Partner, Deloitte Mongolia
Ariun Luvsan, Gobi Cashmere

12.00

Close

Speakers

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Genetic and virulence characterization of classical swine fever viruses isolated in Mongolia from 2007 to 2015

Authors: Bazarragchaa Enkhbold, Munkhduuren Shatar, Shiho Wakamori, Tomokazu Tamura, Takahiro Hiono, Keita Matsuno, Masatoshi Okamatsu, Takashi Umemura, Batchuluun Damdinjav, Yoshihiro Sakoda

March 4 (Virus Genes journal) Abstract

Classical swine fever (CSF), a highly contagious viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs in many developing countries, is now considered endemic in Mongolia, with 14 recent outbreaks in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. For the first time, CSF viruses isolated from these 14 outbreaks were analyzed to assess their molecular epidemiology and pathogenicity in pigs. Based on the nucleotide sequences of their 5′-untranslated region, isolates were phylogenetically classified as either sub-genotypes 2.1b or 2.2, and the 2014 and 2015 isolates, which were classified as 2.1b, were closely related to isolates from China and Korea. In addition, at least three different viruses classified as 2.1b circulated in Mongolia. Experimental infection of the representative isolate in 2014 demonstrated moderate pathogenicity in 4-week-old pigs, with relatively mild clinical signs. Understanding the diversity of circulating CSF viruses gleans insight into disease dynamics and evolution, and may inform the design of effective CSF control strategies in Mongolia.

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Ulaanbaatar

Third Ulaanbaatar Book Exchange Day Held on Saturday

Ulaanbaatar, March 6 /MONTSAME/ On March 4, Saturday, the 3rd Book Exchange Day was co-organized at the central square by Department of Arts and Culture of the City Administration and Public Library of Ulaanbaatar.

Enabling opportunities for readers to make a mutually beneficial exchange of books, and aiming to enrich the archive of the Public Library with rare books from readers, the event is held on the first Saturdays of every month.

Z.Tugsjargal, Chief of Division in charge of assembling books at the Ulaanbaatar Public Library said that the library had brought some 400 fairy tales, literature, history and other books to the event. He said, "People usually keep their old books without use. Therefore, we're offering to exchange those books with modern, new books. During the previous two Book Exchange events, we collected some 150 rare and valuable books. We're confident that the event will provide opportunities to gather more books in the months to come".

Participants of the book exchanging event expressed their gratitude towards the organizers for the opportunity to expand and update their personal libraries. Elder T.Minjuur said, "I have a personal collection of 300 books, and today, I brought 5 for exchange. I encourage the younger generation to read books".

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27,697 passengers traveled to countryside during Tsagaan sar

Ulaanbaatar, March 3 (MONTSAME) During Lunar New Year-Tsagaan sar celebration a total of 27697 passengers got intercity transportation service, reported the National center of Auto transportation. A total of 1286 buses provided service in 269 routes in those days.

It is usual that number of passengers traveling to countryside increases intensely during the celebration as they greet parents and elder relatives. The traffic police organized moving posts and patrols on main roads to regulate traffic and prevent accidents.

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Effective traffic regulation for Tsagaan Sar proves popular

March 5 (UB Post) Drivers and passengers enjoyed considerably smoother commutes this Tsagaan Sar, as more than 900 cadets from the Police Academy and Traffic Police officers regulated Ulaanbaatar's roads during the holidays.

The Traffic Police officers and cadets directed traffic at nearly every intersection prone to heavy traffic with a heightened level of readiness at the expense of missing traditional Lunar New Year's greetings with their families, a respected tradition of Tsagaan Sar.

"I haven't been able to greet my parents on the first day of Tsagaan Sar for the past 18 years. I'd like to send my greetings from this road. I will look forward to seeing you in two days," Senior Officer M.Narmandakh said on February 27, as he stood on duty.

It's a Mongolian tradition to give New Year's greetings to one's parent on the first day of Tsagaan Sar, to show respect and wish them a good year ahead. M.Narmandakh's sentiments underscore the occupational sacrifices Traffic Police officers make to fulfill their duties.

In addition to effective regulation by cadets, restrictions on driving in bus lanes were lifted on February 27 and 28. This significantly reduced traffic congestion, said one Traffic Police officer.

Weather and traffic reports were issued every 15 to 20 minutes on 96.3 FM, www.traffic.police.gov.mn, and the Ulaanbaatar Traffic Police Department's Facebook page.
On the second day of Tsagaan Sar, the number of collisions caused by speeding and fines issued for driving in opposing lanes and not wearing a seatbelt increased as traffic heading to the outskirts of the city and the countryside escalated dramatically. On the third day of Tsagaan Sar, traffic flowing into Ulaanbaatar increased, reported the Traffic Police.

According to the Ulaanbaatar Traffic Police Department, there were several collisions which resulted in death and injury during the holidays. Two children died in a collision caused by a driver under the influence of alcohol on the eve of Tsagaan Sar, February 26. Reports show that nine children, including a five-month-old baby, were injured in a traffic accident during Tsagaan Sar as a result of failing to wear seatbelts and not being safely restrained in car seats.

The General Police Department received 1,144 reports of traffic incidents from February 27 to March 1, 910 of which were related to collisions in the capital that killed 14 people and injured 48 others. Collisions recorded outside of Ulaanbaatar killed 13 people and injured 10 people. According to statistics, compared to Tsagaan Sar 2016, the number of reports fell by 46.9 percent, the number of accidents fell by 31.3 percent, and the number of casualties decreased by nearly three-fold.

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Diplomacy

Mongolia: Positioned for Belt and Road Benefits

Relationship with southern neighbor China is key to Mongolia's development potential as link between Asia and Europe

By ALFRED ROMANN in Hong Kong

March 3 (China Daily) A visit to China by Mongolia's foreign minister late last month marked a significant and positive shift in the relations between the two countries and facilitated the implementation of an economic bailout package that Mongolia badly needs.

On Feb 20, just as Mongolian Foreign Minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil visited Beijing, China joined an international consortium to provide Mongolia with a series of loans to ensure the country has enough cash on hand to cover payments on some so-called Chinggis Bonds that are coming due this month. (Mogi: mixing up the bonds)

China's part of the package included a commitment to extending a currency swap line worth 15 billion yuan ($2.18 billion).

Mongolia had angered China in November by allowing a visit by the 14th Dalai Lama, who has pushed for separating Tibet from China.

In January, during a phone call between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Munkh-Orgil, Mongolia said it had reflected deeply on the visit and promised to not allow the Dalai Lama to visit again.

On Feb 20, Wang said the bilateral relationship "is ready for another start".

Just five years ago, Mongolia was the fastest growing economy in the world with GDP expanding by more than 17 percent. In 2016, the country barely avoided a contraction, and only managed growth of about 1 percent thanks to a resurgence in coal prices toward the end of the year.

"The economy (of Mongolia) has been slowing in addition to the softening of commodity prices, but in terms of the near-term outlook I would say it is positive," said Akiko Terada-Hagiwara, a senior economist in the East Asia department of the Asian Development Bank.

Long reliant on its plentiful natural resources, Mongolia has other needs, not the least of which is infrastructure to facilitate further growth.

"In terms of infrastructure, the country needs to build a lot. Electricity demand is high … but they will need to shift to clean energy," said Terada-Hagiwara. "In terms of growth, probably more infrastructure is needed around the mining areas, including transportation and water supply."

And both the investment and markets that Mongolia needs are in China. Mongolia depends on China for much more than just quick cash to stave off a default.

The country is likely to benefit from infrastructure projects associated with the Belt and Road Initiative, a China-led drive to improve connectivity along the historical Silk Road trading routes.

A landlocked country of 3.1 million people, Mongolia has just two neighbors, China and Russia. Without access to ports, Mongolian coal has to be transported overland.

The country has been working with a number of international companies, including large Chinese enterprises, to develop mega projects but it has yet to overcome a bottleneck caused by a lack of railway capacity.

That is why Mongolia could emerge as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Belt and Road and become a pivotal link between Asia and Europe. One leg of a proposed Eurasian rail link would travel through Mongolia.

Little of this is likely to happen, however, without support from China.

Mongolia's neighbor has long been the largest export market for its goods, including coal, milk, copper, gold, cashmere and leather. By the end of 2016, China bought some 80 percent of Mongolia's exports. At the same time, China provided about a third of Mongolia's own imports.

This year, the development of the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine, which has long been delayed, is coming online and is expected to be a big driver of economic growth and should help keep the economy in positive territory.

The Oyu Tolgoi mine is operated by multinational mining giant Rio Tinto which started construction of the mine in 2010 but production was stopped in 2013 after a disagreement over costs and revenue sharing between the company and the Mongolian government. Shipments started again in 2015.

Copper and gold are two of Mongolia's many plentiful natural resources.

However, the country may be most famous for its coal deposits. Most coal mined in Mongolia goes to China.

"Coal has to be exported to China but currently most of it is done by truck. If they had trains going to China that would be more efficient but currently they don't," said Terada-Hagiwara.

Most coal moves out of Mongolia's giant mines such as Tavan Tolgoi in large trucks that, on good days, flow relentlessly into China through border crossings along the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

There are occasionally hiccups — the flow was temporarily stopped in December when some border townships such as Urad Middle Banner raised fees to cross into China.

It is only when it reaches the other side of the Chinese border that the coal can finally be loaded into trains and distributed throughout the country.

For China, having access to high quality coal from nearby Mongolia is a boon.

Thomas Hugger, founder and CEO of Asia Frontier Capital, a fund that invests in Mongolia and Mongolia-focused companies, noted that China has to source other commodities from around the world, while for coal "they have some of the best resources at their doorstep".

The timing may also be good for Mongolia, said Hugger, because "China just announced that it will stop importing coal from North Korea, and that is huge for Mongolia".

China has been keen to work with Mongolia to develop projects that give it access to coal, often at prices below the global market price.

In December, the Mongolian government met with representatives of Shenhua Coal, a major Chinese State-owned enterprise, which is considering taking over the development of the giant Tavan Tolgoi mine from Mongolian government-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi.

The one outstanding issue is a $350 million loan that Erdenes owes to another Chinese company, Chalco.

Mongolia's Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat is likely to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China, which will take place in May.

Mongolia is also looking to boost ties with Russia. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement in February during a visit by the Mongolian foreign minister.

The tripartite program to establish the Mongolia-Russia-China Economic Corridor is also being discussed. The idea for an economic corridor between the three countries was first floated in 2015 and cemented in June 2016 during the 16th Summit of State Heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which all three countries are members.

The corridor fits in well with the Belt and Road strategy, which was initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

"I am happy with the way our trilateral ties are developing," said Xi in June 2016. "Our three countries' ministries, local authorities and companies are working actively to implement this road map, and are organizing intensive coordination of projects in trade, the economy, humanitarian ties, transit traffic, tourism and sports."

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Health & Education

Health Minister attends "She Decides" international conference in Brussels

Ulaanbaatar, March 3 (MONTSAME) Health Minister A.Tsogtsetseg attended a ministerial conference "She decides" held in Brussels, Belgium on March 2. Representatives from some 50 governments, NGOs for women rights, the UN and other international organizations and private sector participated in the conference, discussing actions and measures targeted to protecting women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, financial and policy support and global tendency of it.

The international conference was both an advocacy and a fundraising event and the fund of EUR 181 million was successfully raised for financing actions and measures to protect women's sexual and reproductive health and rights and the participants expressed their support of global fundraising initiative "She decides".

Minister A.Tsogtsetseg held individual meetings with executive director of the United Nations Population Fund) Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation of the Kingdom of Belgium Alexander De Croo, where she introduced actions and measures of the Mongolian Government regarding the protection of sexual and reproductive rights.

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Mongolian physicist strives to introduce hyperthermia therapy for cancer

March 5 (UB Post) Physicist D.Sangaa delves into his nanotechnology and nanomedicines studies in the following interview.

D.Sangaa, who recently became an academic of the Mongolian Academy of Science (MAS) in January, acquired a broad range of experience by working as the deputy head of the Neutron Physics Laboratory at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna city, Russia from 2009 to 2013.

Congratulations on becoming MAS's newest academic. Tell us about your work, which merited this prestigious title?

MAS is the core organization of science, and only a few scientists become true MAS members. There are around 60 MAS members right now. The requirements for becoming an academic is very high. You have to be acknowledged by at least 75 percent of MAS members to earn this title. In other words, your works need to be acknowledged by other scientists and academics. Anyone can become an academic regardless of age if they've made a discovery significant to the nation or the world. I'm honored to have been accepted as the newest member of MAS along with well-known scientist D. Tseveendorj and deputy president of the Mongolian Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Which of your studies impressed other academics?

My main work is the study of internal composition and characteristics of substances in all state using neutron diffraction applications, which demonstrates basic principles of quantum mechanics discovered in the 20th century. I think that fellow scientists and senior academics supported my membership because I not only focused on my own research but also taught many students and created a Mongolian team at the JINR in Dubna city.

During my four years working as the deputy head of the Neutron Physics Laboratory at JINR, I worked with scientists from 20 member countries and lead an international scientific group formed to enhance JINR's massive nuclear equipment and design other equipment.

You have been studying nanotechnology and nanomagnetic materials and have been trying to introduce this area of study in Mongolia in recent years. What made you interested in nanoscience?

Nanotechnology is a very young branch of science and technology that's continuously expanding across the globe. Mongolians became aware of nanotechnology in 2005, and since, it has been introduced and applied in several fields.

People seemed very interested in my nanotechnology studies, which were exhibited at the MAS biennial election for new members.

People interact with the material world all the time. It's necessary to study the internal compositions and characteristics of materials to improve them, enhance their appearance and make them easier to use. It takes more than just looking through a microscope to do this kind of study. Complicated methods like X-ray diffraction and neutron scattering are used.

I've been doing this kind of research for over 30 years. [Nanotechnology] was my main area of study when I studied at Moscow State University and worked for 10 years at JINR. I've been studying magnetic materials with unique characteristics for the last five to six years with Russian and Japanese researchers.

Mongolians know what magnets are, but nanomagnetic materials are slightly different. Foreign scientists and I are researching ways to introduce nanomagnetic materials into medical science because we believe it would be very beneficial. For example, I collaborated with Japanese scientists on getting samples of nanomagnetic particles, studied them in detail in Russia, and published the findings for international audience.

Is it true that your research on the structural phase transition on copper ferrite nanocrystals could be used for developing cancer treatment? What did you find out through this research?

I'm striving to make a huge contribution to the health of Mongolians by introducing a new treatment for cancer using nanomagnetic materials. Some materials produce heat in alternating magnetic fields. This means that nanomaterials eventually heat up in magnetic fields depending on their nuclear spin. Apparently, cancer cells die when exposed to high temperature.

This technique targets cancer cells or the iron oxide particles to tumors by putting them inside stem cells from bone marrow that naturally home in on cancer cells in the body. Then it kills the cells. This method is much more advanced than radiotherapy or surgery.

The treatment is inexpensive, quick and highly effective, but most of all, it is painless to the patient. I'm aiming to find the best and most effective method to treat cancer by studying this interesting physics phenomenon.

When can Mongolia start using this treatment?

The treatment has been tested on animals. Currently, some clinics in developed countries such as Japan and South Korea are testing this method, but they are keeping it a secret at the moment.

I'm sure that this new technique, known as hyperthermia therapy, will be introduced to the world very soon.

Does the Mongolian medical sector know about your study of cancer treatment? Even if it's decided that hyperthermia therapy will be introduce, wouldn't it require considerable investment and equipment?

For a fact, it takes a long time until scientific findings are translated into practice. For example, people started using lamps 100 years after it was first created. Nowadays, scientific discoveries are brought to practice relatively faster. It will not be long until hyperthermia therapy is introduced in Mongolia.

Many things will need to be resolved to do this. The Japanese side said it's possible to introduce this method to Mongolia after they validate their patent. The Mongolian government should start drafting a good contract and plan a proper management for it. If not, scientists can't translate their discoveries into practice on their own.

I've presented my study to doctors and directors of the National Cancer Center. I met them again with Japanese researchers. I'm happy to announce that we agreed to start a project which will become the foundation for introducing hyperthermia therapy in Mongolia.

Director of the National Cancer Center J.Chinburen, doctor N.Enkhbold, and scientists from the MAS Institute of Physics and Technology will carry out this project.

In 2007, you predicted that the development of nanotechnology would speed up from 2010 to 2015 and that the real development of this field would begin from 2015. In your opinion, how efficiently did Mongolian scientists spend these past years?

Mongolians were able to get the basic understanding of nanotechnology as a result of the National Program on Nanotechnology Studies, developed by the MAS Institute of Physics and Technology and National University of Mongolia between 2006 and 2007. The government provided quite a bit of funding to this program. A doctorate of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology got a patent for a nano cloth he invented.

Nanotechnology can be applied in every field.  The main thing is how we develop it and whether we can use it on a broad scale. Members of our institute have extensively studied ways to use nanotechnology for finding new energy sources.

One of the studies involves generating hydrogen energy source through nanoscience. Since the earth has ample water resources from seas and oceans, scientists across the globe are studying opportunities to generate energy using water.

Another research is aimed to create a new type of battery through nanotechnology. We're collaborating with Taiwan researchers on this. Two of my students got their doctorate with researches in this area. Taiwan is an innovative leader, especially in nano battery production. Our institute has established a trial factory for producing a new type of small batteries using nanotechnology.

N.Jargalan, one of my students, partnered with scientists in Dubna city to study fullerene, a molecule of carbon, and its characteristics. They discovered that it's possible to use fullerene in medicine. Jargalan plans to earn his doctorate this month in Russia.

Russia and Germany are trying to get a patent for introducing brain tumor treatment with this discovery by a Mongolian scientist. We also cooperated with French scientists in creating an accelerator with nanotechnology. One of my students, E.Uyanga, studied nano accelerators with French scientists and got her doctorate two years ago. It was the first time a Mongolian person earned a doctoral degree from a French institute. I'm proud that in every corner of the globe, Mongolians are contributing in the development of nanotechnology despite having few people specialized in nanotechnology among our small population.

In the past, you talked about producing pure cashmere with the use of nanotechnology. Is this really possible?

Honestly, no one believed me when I said that it's possible to invent television screens using nanocrystals in the future. Yet, Korea's LG Corporation launched a super television with nano cell technology last year.

It's not impossible to produce pure cashmere using nanotechnology. However, the development of nanotechnology isn't as fast as I expected it to be when I made that statement. I might have been a little too optimistic. In around 2007, Russians were manufacturing nano diamonds. A couple of days ago, a well-known Russian researcher specialized in nanotechnology stated that Russia lost its opportunity to manufacture nano diamonds due to lack of consistent and accurate policy for it. We should keep this in mind.

Mongolian researchers have accomplished quite a lot in the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The government is speaking out for innovations more than before, which is encouraging and motivating scientists and researchers a lot. Even so, the state needs a special policy for developing innovative production services. It's useless to spend heaps of money for organizing all kinds of contests among small and medium-sized businesses in the guise of supporting innovation projects.

Considerable funding and workforce will be required for developing nanotechnology and correctly implementing innovation projects. Actually, if we can overcome the first struggle and carry out a proper innovation project, the rest of the work will progress smoothly on its own. It will expand and boost the economic growth of our nation.

I have high hopes for the development of nanotechnology in Mongolia because the private sector and local companies are very active in this field.

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Culture & Society

Watch a Fox Being Hunted From an Eagle's Perspective

The magic of GoPros.

March 2 (Esquire) There's nothing quite as majestic as watching an eagle swoop through the sky—other than this video, that is.

Earlier this week, GoPro posted a video to YouTube from the perspective of one of their cameras attached to an eagle. The video is just a two-minute long clip of a 15-minute video entitled "Eagle Hunters In a New World" about a small nomadic community of people who hunt with golden eagles:

"On the Western plains of Mongolia a nomadic group of Kazakhs continue the ancient practice of hunting with golden eagles. The Burkitshi are a small and dwindling community, eager to pass on their traditions in the face of growing modernization in Mongolia."

You can watch the full video here.

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Similar:

Eagle Armed With A GoPro Hunts A Fox, And It's IntenseHuffington Post, March 3

Eagle assassin expertly hunts fox in desert – see the bird's POV as it attacksDaily Star, March 3

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Herder households affected by Dzud have received humanitarian aid

March 3 (Mongolian Red Cross Society) Mongolia is currently experiencing Dzud, local term for extremely low temperatures and heavy snowfalls, which prevents livestock from accessing pasture or from receiving adequate hay and fodder.  

The Mongolian Red Cross Society, in cooperation with The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, launched an appeal to deliver assistance and support to the herder population, who are at risk of losing millions of livestock, the only source of food, transport, and income for almost half of the Mongolian population 

Since early November 2016, approximately 157,000 (37000 herder households) people across 17 out of 21 provinces in Mongolia have been affected by extreme winter conditions. The emergency plan of action has been developed by MRCS supported by IFRC in consultation with government and international responders. 

As of 24th of February, 1740 most vulnerable herder households from 5 most affected provinces of Khuvsgul, Zavkhan, Uvs, Khovd and Selenge have been receiving unconditional cash transfer, 1000 households with the funding of Disaster Relief Emergency Fund and 740 households with the funding of United States Agency for International Development. 

The cash grant, MNT 245,000 equal to USD 100, is being implemented through Khan Bank.  MRCS has mobilized 110 local volunteers in 55 soums in support and monitoring of the operation. 

MRCS has been receiving appreciation calls and messages through line 98-106-106 since the start of the operation. First aid kits will be distributed to herder households after National holiday Tsagaan Sar.

The list of the 1740 households who have benefieced

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MISSION TO MONGOLIA: Local teen prepares for adventure of a lifetime

March 5 (The Chief) Local teen Scott Esola is preparing for an adventure of a lifetime, thousands of miles away from his home and family in Clatskanie.

Esola will use his love of puppets and his knowledge of the Bible as a youth evangelist in Mongolia this summer.

"I felt this would be an interesting project to undertake," he said.

During Scott's trip to Mongolia, he will teach construction, music and puppet classes and help construct projects at a local orphanage. Scott will also be involved in evangelism ministry work with Mongolian teens.

Esola is a member of the Clatskanie Baptist Church and is using his church experience to prepare for the project.

"I am pretty much focusing on the Bible, taking notes and taking advice from my pastor and leaders to prepare myself," he said.

Scott serves on the church worship team during regular Sunday morning services and also in the evening during youth group sessions. He also volunteers his help during preschool-6th grade Venture Club nights on Wednesdays. He is also currently involved with Clatskanie Boy Scouts and with leadership at Clatskanie Middle/High School.

"Scott has wanted to travel out of the country, but has been undecided for awhile," Scott's father, Shawn said.

But during a recent Teen Missions Conference in Portland, Scott's future became clear.

"The conference, and a meeting with Ryan Fast, one of the key speakers, gave Scott the avenue to serve in the way he has been wanting to for awhile," Shawn said. "We then knew that this was an awesome opportunity for Scott and this seemed to be the perfect fit."

Scott is now in the process of soliciting the funds he needs to make the journey to Mongolia.

"He needs a total of $4,700 by May 15 and has already raised $1,500 through sponsor letters, our church, and local businesses here in Clatskanie," Shawn said. "We are so proud of him and the young man he has become, and as parents, we believe to never hold back our kid's dreams and can't wait to see how serving a whole summer in the missions field will change his life."

Scott will attend a Teen Missions boot camp in Florida for two weeks to prepare for his journey and work before leaving for Mongolia

Another local teen, Jason Lebeck, is also participating in the Teen Mission project, Lebeck is scheduled to go to South Korea.

To donate to Scott Esola's mission to Mongolia, visit https://www.gofundme.com/scotts-mongolia-mission-fund.

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Nature & Environment

Birding Mongolia: First Day Out, January 31, 2017

text & photos by Abu

March 2 (Birding Mongolia) Although I had arrived as early as December 2016 the last day of January 2017 was indeed my first day out for bird watching after I had come here for overwintering. I had been occupied by too many other things. But today I had to visit the Immigration Office near the airport and as this is more than half way between my home and the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul, I quickly drove down there and spent a couple of hours birding the berry eaters. This winter the trees carry a full load of berries and this did not only attract the more or less usual number of Bohemian Waxwings (c500) but also a higher than usual number of thrushes. Photographing the waxwings has become a kind of routine and I tried not to take too many photos of them. They had been featured frequently and hopefully also thoroughly enough (see here). Despite this I looked for an adult male with those red waxy plates on the rectrices but failed again in finding one. My search for the Holy Grail of the waxwings, Japanese Waxwing, was also fruitless so I need to come again. As always, the waxwings were very flighty and I surely did not check them all.

On one hand, wintertime is arguably not the best time for studying thrushes: not much study material is around and the birds are not that social and flocks are rare. Instead they install small territories which are even defended against waxwings. On the other hand, if only a few birds are present, one can fully concentrate on details, much better so than during the peak migration times when hundreds of thrushes can be seen within a single flock.

The "gulls" of the thrushes—by the means of causing ID headaches—is a quartet of taxa which interbreed: Red-throatedTurdus ruficollis (hereafter RTT) and Black-throated Thrushes T. atrogularis (BTT) are commonly subsumed under the name Dark-throated Thrush. The other pair consists of Naumann's T. naumanni and Dusky Thrush T. eunomus, which also are sometimes regarded to belong to a single species, Dusky Thrush. The two species of the first mentioned pair are certainly the most common wintering thrushes, whereas of the latter pair only a very few Naumann's and even fewer Dusky Thrushes have been recorded during winter time. Because hybridization is not only recorded within each species pair but also between members of different pairs, a full array of hybrids must be expected and very often the increasingly desperate observer ends up with the likewise often unanswerable question "Does the bird look like this because of intraspecific variation or because of some degree of gene flow between two (or more) taxa?". This post will not answer this question, unfortunately, but it will hopefully show that the closer you look, the more disturbing details might come to light.

I couldn't take pictures of all individuals that I saw today and of most I photographed I would have liked to take more pictures, but this I never achieved.

Let's start with this easy adult male BTT (pictures 3 to 6). No problem with this, or? Both, Lewington et al. (1991) as well as Clement & Hathway (2000) quote that BTT does not show any red or orangey tone to the feathers (apart from the underwing coverts, see picture 5, where such a displaced orange underwing feather shows on the upper side), but Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer (1988) allow a faint rusty coloration on the outer vanes of all but the central pair of tail feathers. This can be seen in our first bird (pictures 5 and 6). Additionally there is weak orange coloration on the otherwise entirely white undertail coverts which is only visibly from a very short distance. In field this probably would go unnoticed.

What about the next one (pictures 7 to 11)? Easy as well, eh? From the distance this adult male looks boldly black and white and could be mistaken for Common Magpie or even Rosy Starling by the beginner. Both, of course, would show all-black undertail coverts but in this bird they are white. Some darker spots, created by the darker bases of the undertail coverts shine through, though. Usually the darker parts of the undertail coverts are obscured by the large white tips resulting in a plain all-white look to this part. Luckily the male decided to move in closer and on the second picture the under tail is just white (picture 8, but see also pictures 10 & 11). All feathers of the throat and breast are black with a narrow white margin (which wears off quickly and during the breeding season these parts are very very dark). So it is just another straightforward bird? A clean adult male BTT? Not so fast please! We need to look closer.

I got a blurry flight shot (picture 9) when the bird dashed down to the ground for a foraging session. Here, the dark bases of the under tail coverts can "clearly" be seen. On the longest coverts these bases are dark, maybe even black, but the shorter coverts have a kind of brownish bases. Obviously, the underside of the tail is not black. Towards the outer pair of tail feathers the brownish hue intensifies. Could these be already hints to some RTT influence? The upperside of the tail shows some orange red on the bases on both sides (pictures 10 & 11). Following Lewington et al. (1991) as well as Clement & Hathway (2000) these orange tail corners are the disqualifiers for being it a pure BTT. Whether the amount of orange shown by this bird would be just OK for being accepted as a pure BTT by Glutz von Blotzheim (1988) is impossible to know as the authors don't provide an upper limit. So if these birds really are hybrids, a great deal of care needs to be executed to enable someone to pinpoint a true BTT. It would as quite interesting as it would be helpful to know whether red tail corners on adult male BTT or BTT-like hybrids are evenly distributed over the entire breeding range of BTT. Do they occur also in the western part of the BTT range which is far from the breeding range of RTT? If the proportion of red-corned males would increase from west (zero?) to the east (percentage unknown!) this would be a strong point for some genetically leakage of RTT DNA into the BTT population and hence would proof the assumption that any red on the tail safely identifies a hybrid. At present this is all entirely unknown and I am quite sure the above mentioned authors could NOT assure the genetic entity of the birds they had used to draw their respective conclusions.

Haffer (1988) and also Clement & Hathway (2000) claim that intermediate birds (=hybrids) look quite similar to same age and sex BTT which implies that the dark coloration is dominant over the red. To proof this it would be necessary to breed these thrushes under controlled conditions, i.e. pairing up pure (DNA tested and with preferably pure parents) parents of either taxon and see how their offspring looks like. I do not think that anybody ever has undertaken such an effort.

So isn't it just a matter of detectability? Under the assumption that a pure BTT has no orange on the upperside, any orange (then a sign of hybridism), be it even very small, would be rather obvious and could easily be detected. Because of this easiness many observers are able to identify those individuals as hybrid. In case of a rather RTT-like hybrid the recognition wouldn't be as easy. A slight reduction of the amount of orange on a RTT would be very difficult to detect, especially as some variation on the amount of dark on the tail feathers has been described. The darker end of this variation could actually indicate the introduction of BTT DNA into the stock of RTT (check pictures 12, 13 and 18 for some examples).

The next guy shows a bright reddish supercilium, rufous cheeks and lots of orange in the tail (picture 12). When seen head on (picture 13) the uneven length of the greater upperwing coverts illustrate that this is a 2cy thrush (the outer and shorter feathers being juvenile feather and the longer ones had been already moulted but this is not always as easy to see as in this individual). The solidly darkish breast makes it a male. To me, the breast feathers are too dark for a pure RTT but I am not so sure whether the amount of dark on all of the visible tail feathers is too much for a pure RTT. So is it a just a darker RTT or has some foreign DNA crept in? I don't know. For the time being I booked this as a BTT x RTT hybrid.

If the bird in picture 14 is a 2cy individual-and the white tips to the outer greater coverts which are also shorter than the two inner one suggest this—it should be a male (but some females may show a very distinct breast shield!). Its supercilium is suffused be red and the underside of the tail shows red as well so my conclusion is: BTT x RTT.

Now (pictures 15 to 17) another female (?) thrush with a distinct supercilium and a large white throat area but a solid brownish and blackish breast shield. Already when see head-on (picture 15 and the heavily cropped picture 17) the breast looks neither good for a pure BTT nor for a pure RTT. It even has a reddish area on the neck sides and its tail show red, but not as much as I would expect in a pure RTT. This should be just another BTT x RTT hybrid.

What about the bird in picture 18? It also doesn't show lots of red in the tail and its breast looks almost red free. Is it within the variation of RTT or not? I identified this one as a BTT x RTT but I am totally unsure about this.

It seems that there were almost no pure birds around that day. But I photographed at least two thrushes that can be safely identified as pure young female BTT. These are shown in the pictures 19 and 20. As can be seen in the latter there were some easy to identify thrushes around: Fieldfare.

But there was also this thrush (picture 25) of which I managed to get a single shot from the distance. If a thrush shows an obvious supercilium behind the eye alarm bells start ringing as I take this always as an indicator for Naumann's or Dusky Thrush influence (if it is not a pure of one of those). The orange underside of the tail plus the almost plain pale orange undertail coverts are good for a Naumann's Thrush but the entire upperparts point more towards RTT, especially because of the reddish spot on the neck side. The multiple rows of tiny dark-centered orange spots along the breast and down the flanks are unusual for either of these candidates. For me this looks like a RTT x Naumann's hybrid.

These are really headache-causing birds and any expertise intellectual input on this topic, be it on ageing, sexing or even general, would be very highly welcomed, especially if the captions would have to be corrected!

Just for pleasure I include some Bohemian Waxwings. Can you find the only female and the bird, which cannot be aged?

Literature cited:

Solution: The only female (almost white outer tips of the primaries, no waxy tips to the secondaries, a blurred lower border of the dark throat and a narrow yellow tail tip) can be seen in picture 29 and the bird in picture 27 cannot be aged because the upperside of the primaries is not visible.

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Geochronological data of igneous and metamorphic rocks from the Xing'an-Mongolia Orogenic Belt of the eastern Central Asian Orogenic Belt: implications for the final closure of the Paleo-Asian Ocean

Authors: Wang Guosheng, Wu Chen, Chen Cheng, Zhou Zhiguang, Liu Changfeng, Jiang Tian

March 4 (International Journal of Earth Sciences) --

Abstract

In order to better constrain the evolution of the Xing'an-Mongolia Orogenic Belt and the resulting closure of the Paleo-Asian Ocean, we conducted an integrated investigation involving U-Pb dating of igneous and detrital zircon and a synthesis of existing work across the Erdaojing and Ondor Sum complexes in the eastern segment of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt. Geochronological analysis revealed a different tectonic setting between the Ondor Sum complex (Tulinkai area) and the Erdaojing accretion complex, as detrital zircon U-Pb analysis identified different major age provenances: (1) the Precambrian basement of the North China Craton and Paleozoic Bainaimiao Arc along the northern margin of North China to the south are the provenance rocks of the schists in the Tulinkai area, and (2) the Precambrian basement of the Xilinhot complex and Paleozoic Baolidao arc to the north are the provenance rocks of the schists in the Erdaojing area. We infer that the existence of the ocean between the above two regions in the late of Early Paleozoic in accordance with the result of this study. Furthermore, a comparison of the youngest age population in the intruded-diorite rock and metasedimentary rocks with U-Pb ages implies that the final closure of the Paleo- Asian Ocean along the Solonker Suture Zone most likely occurred in the period between 239 and 222 Ma (Late Paleozoic-Triassic).

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Sports

Mongolian wins gold at World Para Powerlifting World Cup

March 3 (news.mn) Mongolian State Honoured athlete E.Sodnompiljee has won a gold medal from the World Para Powerlifting World Cup. The competition opened in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 2nd of March.

E.Sodnompiljee won gold medal in the men's 97 kg category, after lifting 220 kg. A total of 15 athletes from 12 countries such as Egypt, Thailand, India and Japan are participating in the event.

It will be recalled that E.Sodnompiljee won bronze medal in the Men's 88 kg category of Rio-2016 Paralympic Games last August.

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Related:

E.Sodnompeljee secures gold in Para Powerlifting World CupMontsame, March 3

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Mongolian hockey team breaks own record

Ulaanbaatar, March 3 (MONTSAME) Mongolian hockey team participated in the Asian Winter Games 2017 have set a new record for Mongolia by earning the eighth place. The competitions were held in Sapporo and Obihiro, Japan between February 19 and 26, challenging 1,101 athletes from 32 countries.

The Asian Winter Games 2017 was led by the Japanese team, with 27 gold, 21 silver and 26 bronze medals. The top team was followed by China and South Korea.

The Mongolian hockey team defeated the Singaporean team by 8:0 score and Hong Kong by 8:6, and was beaten by Thailand by 5:4, UAE by 6:3 and Taiwan by 6:2.

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Mongolian athletes participating in draughts World Cup

Ulaanbaatar, March 3 (MONTSAME) 'World Cup Final 2017' an international draughts championship is taking place from March 1 to 12. M.Nyamjargal (gmif) and R.Manlai (gmi) are participating from Mongolia in the two separate tournaments of men and women, which challenge 10 players each.

The tournament is taking place in Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia. Participants consist of Top 10 male and female athletes who won the world and regional championships in the last two years.

The organization of the World Cup Final 2017 has been allotted by the FMJD (World Draughts Federation) to the Russian Draughts Federation. With a total amount of RUB 5 million as a prize, the tournament will be played as a round-robin in 9 rounds. 

Mongolian participants M.Nyamjargal and R.Manlai are the winner of the Asian Championship 2016 took place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. And M.Nyamjargal also won the Asian Championship 2012 which took place in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Both players are titled the Champion of Asia, paving their way up in the World Cup.

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Meet the Man Who Walked Across Mongolia and Madagascar

March 2 (Culture Trip) When one trip to Asia left him unsatisfied and searching for greater adventure, Ash Dykes began his journey from local lifeguard to full-time adventurer.

Having saved up his own money to go travelling around China with a friend (Matt), they found that the beaten track of tourist routes failed to live up to expectations, with assumptions of wild adventures not appearing. 'We hadn't done anything adventurous in China so when we were in Cambodia I suggested buying the nastiest, cheapest bikes we could find to cycle the rest of the journey,' Dykes explains. 'At that moment we saw a frail, skinny old lady riding behind us and went and got two of the same bike for a tenner each. We found some string on the road to tie our bags to the back. That was our first catalyst.'

From that point on, the friends were hooked on adventure; as long as it was cheap and challenging. Their bike ride took them the length Cambodia and the same again in Vietnam, trekking through the Himalayas in India, before ending up in Thailand via the Burmese jungle.

Eventually Dykes settled in Thailand – Koh Lipe and Koh Tao – as a scuba instructor, but intrigue had begun to take hold. 'I missed the adventures and I wanted a new one, and I wanted it to be my biggest yet and I wanted to walk, not ride,' he says.

'Mongolia stood out through curiosity as somewhere that I hadn't heard much of. The more research I did, the more I wanted to walk it – completely solo and unsupported.

I wanted advice, did some research and couldn't find any evidence of it being completed – a navy soldier had tried it but not completed it. The grey wolves, the stagnant water, the snow blizzards. It seemed a massive opportunity, so I sold my dive kit, quit my job, found a bit of sponsorship and managed to get started.'

In 2014, Dykes became the first-ever recorded person to walk across Mongolia (all 1,500 miles – 2,400km – of it) solo and unsupported; it took him 78 days. His journey took him over the Altai Mountains, Gobi Desert and Mongolian Steppe. If the distance wasn't challenging enough, the fact the expedition was unsupported meant Dykes had to pull everything he needed to survive in a wheeled trailer weighing 120kg (265 lbs.).

Doing expeditions alone and unsupported changes everything. There's no medical care, no film crew, no backup. In Mongolia, if something went wrong, help was four days away. So how did the adventure compare to those done with Matt in tow?

Dykes grew up playing football and rugby, sports that depend on teamwork and communication. He says, 'It was scary. I remember thinking "How would I handle being alone?" I enjoy the camaraderie of others so didn't think I would handle it, going it alone was a huge step for me. But I'm fairly positive and determined and out there I realised no one else's mood could bring me down.'

Last year, Dykes achieved his second solo world record, becoming the first person to walk the entire length of Madagascar's interior, whilst summiting its eight highest mountains. The expedition was over 1,600 miles (2600km), taking 155 days to complete.

'It was Mongolia that spurred on Madagascar,' he explains. 'What appealed to me was the untouched part of it. I knew in Madagascar I would get to spend more time with the locals, and experience the diversity, but I also went eight days without seeing a single person. Learning from the locals who survive it day in, day out and picking up their skills was what I was seeking in the first place. I'm better suited to survive in the jungle than the UK – I'm good with bamboo and I know how to hunt.'

Despite having to pull the 120kg (265 lbs.) trailer in Mongolia with the threat of wolves and blizzards, and despite being held up by the military in Madagascar and the constant risk of malaria, there is still a constant desire to continue. For Dykes, it's the desire that dictates the challenges ahead, rather than any box-ticking or record seeking. 'I've never thought: "What hasn't been done?" It's what would be cool to do, regardless of whether other people have done it or not.'

'You've got to really want to do it and then things will fall into place. My logistics manager described the central mountain ridge that runs almost the entire length of Madagascar, it was dying to be walked, there was no evidence it has been done before. You've got to want to do the challenge first. With Madagascar I just wanted to do it.'

There is a new challenge and a new want in the making, although Dykes is staying tight-lipped about it. It will be around 4,000 miles (6,400km) long and take around a year to complete, but first he has to 'make sure it's possible.' Given his track record, it seems most things are.

If you want to hear Ash recall his adventures in person, you can buy tickets to his tour here.

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Moscow to Beijing: Russia's 'Forrest Gump' to run 5,000 miles in 200 days

Alexander Kaper will run from Moscow to China's capital in just 200 days, going through 16 Russian regions and three countries: Russia, Mongolia and China.

March 3 (Russia Beyond the Headlines) Russian marathon runner Alexander Kaper plans to run 5,000 miles from Moscow to the capital of China in 200 days, going through 16 Russian regions and three countries: Russia, Mongolia and China. A film crew will accompany the athlete.

"Preparation for the project took about two years," said Kaper. "I just developed a certain schedule for myself. A motor-home will drive with me the whole way, in which I will sleep and rest every 12 miles."

(VIDEO)

The 36-year old Kaper has been a long-distance endurance athlete for 12 years, and has already received 40 awards, and won 10 events and 50 races. In April 2016, over the course of 40 days, he ran 900 miles alone starting in Samara, and going through Kazan to Moscow.

Kaper also ran 60 miles from Ivanovo to Vladimir, and ran 65 miles around Moscow on the ring road in a temperature of -14 degrees Celsius. He also ran a 42-mile route in the form of a heart, through Chechnya.

"We're planning to fill around 50 film rolls with shots of the land and of the people," Kaper said of the plans to film his epic voyage. "Our global assignment is to show Russia and change the stereotypes that exist about the Russian people."

Additionally, the marathon runner will share his experiences on the Internet.

"People are so supportive of us, and we receive a lot of response on social media," said Kaper, who plans to finish in Beijing in the middle of September.

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Art & Entertainment

Exhibition: 'Art and Satisfaction in Mental Action'

March 5 (UB Post) E.Enkhzaya, B.Dulguun, U.Narbayasgalan, U.Odmaa, N.Amarsaikahn, and R.Chinzorig unveiled a group exhibition of installation, mixed media, and video art titled "Art and Satisfaction in Mental Action", which was on view at Contemporary Art Center of Mongolia from February 6 to 28.

The potential for satisfaction exists inside everyone, but the way satisfaction is felt is different. The exhibition aspires to release different feelings of satisfaction through mental action.

Artist B.Dulguun said about her work "Perceiving/Feeling the Information", "I went to a sauna three years ago when I was in South Korea. I had never seen so many naked women at once before. There were women with different body shapes, faces, and ages. It seemed to me that no one cared what people thought about them. At that time, I understood that the clothes we wear change us a lot and hide our faults.

"There is quote that says the female body is God's creation, and it is perfect. I didn't agree with that at that time. I didn't feel good when I saw a lot of naked women. They were like animals, like a flock of animals. I also thought that the human body itself is like clothes.

"My exhibition 'Shell', at 976 Art Gallery in 2016, was related to clothes. Humans transmit information through clothes when they are wearing them. I thought about how clothes couldn't express anything when they weren't being worn. I tried to express this idea through my pieces."

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Travel

Mongolia: Still in the Grip of Genghis

by Glenn A. Baker

March 4 (Place Oddity) It helps to understand the sheer scale of the conquest. No Roman Emperor, no British monarch ever controlled more of the planet than the Mongols. The grand sweep of the Khans took them west into Europe, east into China and south to Java – the largest contiguous land empire in world history. As the text books tell us, Tenggeri, the sky god of the Mongols, gave Genghis Khan the mission of bringing the rest of the world under one sword. He near enough succeeded.

Mongolia no longer has aspirations to bring the world's citizenry under its control, though it is determined to entice as many of them as possible to its sumptuous realm, where the Central Asian steppe, taiga forests, blue lakes, the Altai mountains and the Gobi Desert meet in a high landlocked plateau between Russian Siberia and northern China's plains.

Of the mighty array of attractions, there is none more potent than Naadam, one of the most dramatic and exhilarating events of its kind in the world. A summer festival believed to have existed in some fashion for centuries, it is a Grand Final of sorts, a summit playoff of horseracing, archery and wrestling events (the 'Three Manly Sports', with some earnest knucklebone throwing tossed in as well) staged during the year throughout a country the size of Alaska peopled by only two and a half million.

But, more importantly, it is an affirmation of the Mongolian spirit. To witness ranks of riders surging into the central stadium of Ulaanbaatar on the same compact, sprightly horses that the great Genghis rode into battle – surrounded by athletes, monks, dancers, soldiers, musicians and nomad herders – is to glimpse the grandeur of a civilisation that shaped the world as we now know it. Then to see horses race, at ferocious pace, in their hundreds through vast valleys, while tens of thousands cheer them on; and to observe rotund but almost balletic wrestlers trounce an opponent and then prance across an arena in a traditional victor's Eagle Dance, is to be enveloped in a culture of extraordinary strength.

Though fiercely proud of their rich heritage, modern Mongolians are neither hostile nor warlike; a hospitable warmth is at the heart of their collective character. And while some visitors venture into seemingly untouched terrain where a GPS co-ordinate is more useful than an address, they first pass through a city of shopping malls, supermarkets, boutiques, restaurants, yellow cabs and mini-skirts. Unexpected contrasts pile one atop the other. A Lenin statue a block from a swish fashion catwalk, a 4WD sharing a road with a yak cart, a plush western hotel a short drive from a ger (traditional round felt dwellings) camp.  Some stately buildings are topped with massive signage from the days when Moscow called the shots, patriotic exhortations ranging from Let's Improve Mongolia to May Mongolians' Faith Always Improve And Develop Like Their Fire.

Nowhere are these contrasts more intriguing and more rewarding than in Mongolia's startling wealth of music and performance arts. There is a spectrum of sound that can scarce be believed. At one end, the grand and sweeping classical orchestras, sustained in showpiece style by the Soviets over decades but thoroughly Mongolian in their use of local compositions, and traditional performers playing the Horse Head fiddle and other Mongol-designed lute, wind and percussion instruments.

At the other end, a range of powerful rock bands of long standing – Jargalsaikhan, Chinggis Khan, The Hurd and Haranga – whose CDs are stacked in Tokyo-type record shops alongside the offerings of hip hop, rap, dance and new age entities such as Saraa, Funksta, Gennie, Urna, Hulan and, famed for the anthemic Born In UB, Masta Flow.  And straddling them both – acclaimed and ethereal Mongolian throat singers such as Booyoo, who somehow simultaneously bring forth from their voicebox both high and low notes in spell-binding manner.

There is so much pouring out of this long locked-away country that it is hard to keep up with it all. Those who come expecting to be confronted by the past in a nation that has just celebrated its 800th birthday are soon caught up in the present, with promise of the future. Jasper Becker may have titled his essential book on Mongolia The Lost Country, writing of "wandering tribes, prophets, shamans and mystic kings – where the wolf still stalks the wild horse across the treeless plain and where the eagle hangs in the blue sky searching the bare mountains" but what strikes visitors now is a real sense of making up for years lost. Not only those who make their way there – an easier exercise than may be imagined, with relatively brief air links from Seoul and Beijing – but those who seek out at home groundbreaking and award-winning Mongolian films like The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog.

All carried on under, it would seem, the watchful eye of Genghis Khan, the relentless thirteenth century warrior who fathered over a thousand children and struck fear into more hearts than any leader before or since. The very mention of his name was forbidden by Russian overlords but today it and the accompanying image is absolutely everywhere in Mongolia – from towering statues to vodka bottles, hillsides to t-shirts, banknotes to postage stamps, airports to cultural spectaculars. Leaving you in absolutely no doubt as to where you are and who was there before you.

His was an incomparable genetic footprint. Because Genghis (or Chinggis as he is known at home) had a particular version of the Y chromosome and was no slouch when it came to spreading his seed, it has been possible for an international team of geneticists to determine that one in twelve men in Asia, or about 16 million men in total across the planet, today have him as their forebear. A few years ago, a London restaurant, Shish, offered daily DNA tests at its two branches, with free meals to those found to be descendants of the legendary warlord. That promotion was just a tiny part of a global fascination with a late bloomer hailed as a murdering savage on one hand and a wise father of international diplomacy on the other.

A dichotomy left unresolved by the Japanese-funded big budget feature film set to arrive in 2008. Gen

Modern Mongolians are as fascinated by themselves and their heritage as everybody else. In this land without fences, the last "wild west", where near toxic fermented mares' milk is swigged like cola, all ride high in the saddle; that is when they bother with saddles. The horse to human ratio is 13 to 1 and there seems to be permanent blur in your line of sight as sturdy steeds fly by. There are popular eight-day horseback expeditions through the mountains outside Ulaanbaatar, undertaken alone or in a group. With the horses as certain of the terrain as the camels are of the Gobi desert, there is a rare sense of absolute unfettered explorative adventure.

As agreeable a city as Ulaanbaatar may be, the primary attraction of this country and the principal business of its slew of tour operators, is road trips across its vast surrounds and to its far corners made both possible and comfortable by an uncountable number of Ger (or yurt) camps which have opened up the county to pretty much all-comers with the portable communal tents that have housed nomadic herders for centuries.

Now there are refinements – restaurant, modern shower block, gift shop – but the essence is pure. Across steppe, mountain and desert, by blue lakes and under mountain outcrops, this is where you stay and the experience is both agreeable and unforgettable. There's sheep stewed in a pot, yoghurt delivered by passing nomads (half the population qualifies for the term in some way), a brace of swift horses on call, and visiting serenading throat singers and Mongolian movies on a small screen to pack you off to a serene sleep.

The ger girl comes by at about 6 AM to stoke your fire. By prior arrangement, of course. Apart from the odd crackle from the steel stove that is the centrepiece of your circular felt world, you hear nothing; she's done this before.

Increasingly popular are two- and three-week expeditions, out to Western Mongolia or in "The Big Loop" that sweeps down south to the Gobi and north to the alpine lake of Khovsgol Nuur. They take in massive dunes, mountains, glaciers, canyons, raging rivers, dinosaur quarries and desert monasteries, with hiking, fishing, riding, swimming, climbing, kayaking, dune sliding and camel trekking integral to the experience.

Most of the visitors arrive around July and not just to catch Naadam. Just as Antarctic visitors take advantage of a two month "window" that starts around the middle of December, Mongolian venturers are generally keen to avoid winter temperatures that descend to minus 30 centigrade. As your Lonely Planet guide will warn you, "Ulaanbaatar is possibly the coldest capital city in the world".  But in July and September the dust storms have settled, the days are warm, you're still taking photographs at 10.30pm without need of a flash, the skies are clear, the air is pristine, and the atmosphere enormously amenable.

Ulaanbaatar is not just a gateway to Mongolia. Take the two-and-a-half hour Korean Air flight from Seoul and you can join the daily sleeper train that will take you, with a connection, past Lake Baikal and on to Vladivostock, or link you to the Trans Siberian Express. Next door is the equally vast Kazakhstan, with its own array of compelling societies and terrains. (its cloaked eagle handlers cross the border to entertain tourists).

Freed of the Russians, indifferent to the Chinese, the Mongolians have eagerly aligned themselves with the globalised world, claiming the right to pick'n'choose, with feet in myriad camps, whatever comes their way. With one foot in the thirteenth century and another in the twenty-first, they are a people to contend with.

Capital-dwellers eagerly frequent a branch of the Californian-based Mongolian Barbeque chain, even though, as one young patron admitted, the expensive fare on offer bears little relationship to anything ever served at her family table. It's all about the thrill of the new and there's no shortage of that.

Yet it is the thrill or at least the promise of the very ancient, the uncovering of things once hidden, that is bringing the world to Mongolia. If there's a red carpet at Ulaanbaatar Airport, it would be rarely rolled up. In recent years, a path has been beaten to the exotic and intriguing land by an illustrious array of planetary citizens. Not just George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin but the Dalai Lama, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, a Chinese premier, a Japanese prime minister and prince, a Thai princess, Turkish, Vietnamese, Hungarian and South Korean presidents, a Canadian secretary of state, a UNESCO director-general and Julia Roberts, who went to live with nomadic horseman and learned to milk yaks.  But then, given a chance, who wouldn't? It's a mental checklist sort of place, a destination that even the vaguely adventurous factor in for some stage of their travelling life.

So cogent is Mongolia's representation of freedom and possibility that it has become a starting or staging point for investigation of what may well be the world's last great frontier. Some fly in from Seoul or Beijing to join the daily sleeper train that connects with the Trans Siberian and will take you past Lake Baikal to Vladivostock, Russia's easternmost port. Others venture off toward neighbouring Kazakhstan, Manchuria, or the bordering Russian republics of Tuva, Buryatia and Altai, each with its own array of compelling terrain and societies. A Hamburg To Shanghai car rally snakes through the country during the summer (few would dare it during the winter harshness).

Horses remain a constant as you shake the dust off your boots in Ulaanbaatar and prepare to depart. You can see them prancing near acrobatically indoors in the city, bringing to life tales of Genghis and his Mongolian hordes through handlers of far calmer demeanor. You are never allowed to forget just where and in whose company you are.

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Travel Writing 2017 Application

The Mongolian Hair-Cutting Ceremony 2017

A place I'll never forget

By William Frantz

Mongolia had already been an unforgettable trip full of adventure. I'd learned to ride a horse and how to make traditional Mongolian clothing, but what will always stick with me was happening onto a little boy's hair-cutting ceremony.

We were travelling from ger to ger and when we arrived at our stop for the night they'd just slaughtered a goat. We knew something special was happening because fresh meat is a privilege. One of the aunts from Ulaanbaatar spoke enough English that she was able to explain what was happening. She conveyed that it was the little boy's 5th birthday and his first haircut. This is a significant mark of manhood and it was huge party with family and friends.

After butchering the goat, they made blood sausage and put the skins to dry. We spent the rest of the evening shooting toy bows with the children, hiking, and eating a lot of offal.

Next morning, after all the family had arrived, everyone gathered in the main ger. There was a massive crowd in the small space, indicative of how much love they had for the boy. Everybody was seated around the ger in a horseshoe with the top opposite the doorway. The father sat at the head and to either side of him sat important male family members. Everybody was dressed in good clothing and all the men were wearing their cowboy hats.

Once everybody was in the room, the dad gave a short speech in Mongolian. My friend and I understood none of it, but it was obviously a coming-of-age speech. We were all served arag, which is fermented horse milk, and some people started drinking vodka. The father then used scissors to cut the first lock of hair. They continued cutting in descending order of importance, saving the hair in a large prayer bag. At the end, my friend and I were the last two to cut some hair. We thought it incredibly sweet to include us and we appreciated being held for last as we were only accidental visitors. They left some hair on the boy's head, which we later learned was reserved for an absent family member.

Soon after the ceremony, we left on the next part of our journey. Later, we unexpectedly ran into some fellow travelers who'd stayed with the family the night after the ceremony. Apparently it had extended into a full day party with the adults drinking an arguably ridiculous amount of vodka and getting belligerent.

All of Mongolia was incredible, but stumbling onto such an significant piece of another culture was entirely unexpected and one of the best parts of the whole trip.

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Ten truly remote places where your boss can't track you down

These places don't have cell reception, Wi-Fi, or other distractions from the outside world — such as politics

March 5 (TODAY) When the weather is bad and days are short, workers can feel especially cooped up in the office — and bogged down in constant contact with other human beings. All the more reason to choose a vacation destination that is so remote and so untouched by modernity that you will feel truly alone. At these 10 places, there's no Wi-Fi or bad cell reception, and there's very few other humans. So go ahead and turn on that "out of office and into the wild" notification. 

Jalman Meadows Ger Camp, Mongolia

You'll say "out of office" like you really mean it the moment you zip out of Ulaanbaatar's city limits and into rural Mongolia. Stay in a comfortable camp such as Jalman Meadows — which has 14 well-appointed tents, many with private showers and wooden stoves—and spend some time with the nomads who live here. Switching off has never felt so Zen. Days are spend hiking the Khan Khentii protected wilderness park in which the camp is located, fishing in the nearby Upper Tuul River, or riding horses with the nomads. From US$73 per person, per night, including meals.

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U of Vermont: Map to Mongolia

In a fragile landscape, Simon McIntosh '17 finds the best places for new roads

March 3 (University of Vermont) On the eighth day, Simon McIntosh '17 got off his horse and started walking. He was exploring a roadless mountain pass in the northernmost corner of Mongolia, near the border of Russia. To his east, Lake Hovsgol stretched for more than eighty miles. "Some people call it the Blue Pearl," he says. "It's stunning around there—where the steppe grasslands and taiga forests meet the Siberian mountains." In that region, nomadic Tsaatan people herd reindeer, and endangered ibex and Argali sheep roam. A few trucks and motorcycles meander through the grasses and mud. To cross the mountains, and descend into the Darkhad Valley, there is no improved road, only rough tracks.

"But that is changing," McIntosh says. The Mongolian government has established new national parks in the area and built a paved road from the capital to Lake Hovsgol in 2013. There has been a sharp increase in the number of visitors to the region—bringing with them greater impacts on the land and opportunities for economic development. "In a grassy field, you'll see tire tracks going in every direction," McIntosh says. The government now aims to build a paved road from the lake over into the remote valley. "But the question is: where?" McIntosh says.

Route Finding

Helping to answer that question became McIntosh's senior thesis—and took him to Mongolia for the summer of 2016. It was his second trip there to make maps in partnership with local park rangers and the Mongol Ecology Center. An environmental studies major in UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences—with a minor in geospatial technologies—McIntosh spent weeks trekking over five mountain passes with a Mongolian partner, and a pocketful of GPS equipment—"collecting data on the Garmin every fifty meters," he says.

"It's a beautiful and fragile place," he says, "and I knew my research could make a difference."

Most of his mapping outings were on horseback and lasted "three or four days," McIntosh says. But, late in summer, he and his working partner, Orhan, set out for eight days. "Mongolian horse saddles are not as comfortable as European ones," McIntosh recalls with a rueful laugh. He collected the data he needed, but his backside was so sore that "by the last day I was walking," he says.

"A road has many implications," McIntosh says. With support from the UVM Office of Undergraduate Research, a Simon Family Public Research Fellowship—and guidance from UVM professors Patricia Stokowski, Bob Manning, and Rick Paradis—McIntosh planned his independent research expedition. In the Darkhad Valley, he input observations on his smartphone about each of the five mountain passes, like soil type and slope. Then he applied a matrix tool—including input from conservationists, local officials, and nomadic herders—to make a recommendation about which route "could help the most people," he says, "while also best protecting the land."

His final report, which he shared with Mongolian leaders in the region, showed that two passes could be suitable. But that the southern Öl Pass might be the best choice for a road that "links rural communities, national parks, and indigenous routes for future tourism purposes," McIntosh notes.

"Write a thesis or do an independent study. Find a project that is yours," McIntosh suggests to incoming students. "You should look at college as something you do, rather than something that's done to you."

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Indy Guide Mongolia Trips:

Western Mongolia: Altai Mountain Trekking Tour, 10 Days

Tour 'Center of Energy', Mongolia, 4 Days

Khuvsgul lake tour 2017, Mongolia, 10 Days

Western Mongolia: Fishing Tour - unique experience

Northern Mongolia Pack Horse Trekking Tour, 14 Days

The Best of Gobi Tour in Mongolia, 11 Days

Ulaanbaatar City Tour and Terelj NP, Mongolia, 5 Days

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