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Ex-judo star poised to win Mongolia presidential runoff

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ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (AP) — A populist business tycoon and former judo star is poised to take down the Mongolian ruling party's candidate in a runoff election for president.

Preliminary results Saturday after most of the polling stations were counted showed Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party was leading with 50.6 percent of the vote.

The Mongolian People's Party's Miyegombo Enkhbold secured 41.2 percent.

While the nation of 3 million had been an oasis of democratic stability since the end of communist rule nearly three decades ago, its politics have grown increasingly fractious amid an economic crisis and accusations of corruption among the ruling class.

Battulga campaigned on a "Mongolia First" policy, borrowing the language of President Donald Trump. He promised to be "a patriotic president" seeking "equal cooperation" with neighbors like China, which he has criticized in the past.

Battulga told The Associated Press late Friday that under his leadership, foreign investment and technology would be welcome in Mongolia — but that he would fight for Mongolians to enjoy greater benefits from such investment.

"What the (ruling party) was saying and sending negative messages about during campaigning was that when this person Battulga comes to power, foreign investment will stop. That he will put investment in a very difficult situation," Battulga said.

"I will support foreign investment, but it needs to be in a win-win situation for everyone. It doesn't matter if it's China or Russia, or any other countries," he said.

Foreign investment in Mongolia has slumped in recent years following weaker commodity prices and high-profile disputes between the government and large investors including Rio Tinto.

Mongolia's economy grew just 1 percent last year, down from 17.5 percent in 2011, when it was the world's fastest-growing. It now has $23 billion in debt, more than double the size of its economy.

Enkhbold, whose party won parliamentary elections last year by a landslide, had been widely seen as representing stability at a time when Mongolia is showing tentative signs of recovery from an economic crisis brought about by a dramatic drop in global commodity prices.

The Democratic Party leader, Erdene Sodnomzundui, declared it a hard-fought victory. "We competed with the party that has 65 seats in parliament," Sodnomzundui said. "We competed against a lot of power, such as the police and army."

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