Mongolian prime minister resigns after COVID-19 protests


FILE PHOTO: A man holds a sign demanding the resignation of the State Emergency Commission (SEC), during a protest against the government's handling on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia January 20, 2021. Picture taken January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Anand Tumurtogoo

ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) - Mongolia's parliament has approved the resignation of Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa after protests in the capital Ulaanbaatar over the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state news agency, Montsame, said.

Khurelsukh said in a resignation statement submitted on Thursday that he should "assume the responsibility upon himself and accept the demand of the public."

He will be replaced by Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, the chief cabinet secretary, Montsame said.

Khurelsukh, of the Mongolian People's Party, won a landslide election last June, but the country has been plagued by political instability.

The protests erupted on Wednesday over what some Mongolians saw as the inhumane treatment of a COVID-19 patient and her newborn baby, Montsame said.

Video footage showed the patient, still wearing her nightgown and slippers in freezing conditions, being relocated with her baby to a specialist quarantine facility run by Mongolia's National Center of Communicable Diseases.

The protests triggered the dismissal of senior health officials. Mongolia's deputy prime minister and health minister also tendered their resignations.

The incident came amid growing public dissatisfaction with Mongolia's economic situation and a lack of job opportunities.

Mongolia, which earned praise from the World Health Organization in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic for its handling of the health crisis, has recently been battling an outbreak caused by an infected driver entering from Russia.

The country, with a population of around 3 million, has so far reported 1,584 cases.

While Khurelsukh said in his resignation speech that there have been no deaths from COVID-19 in Mongolia so far, the health ministry says there have been three fatalities.

(Reporting by Anand Tumurtogoo and David Stanway; Editing by Gareth Jones and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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