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Staff writer

In an effort to strengthen bilateral economic ties and other relations, Mongolian President Natsagiin Bagabandi is expected to visit Japan May 11-15, his first trip here since he took office early last summer, Foreign Ministry sources said Friday.

However, the sources said the date for the Mongolian leader’s trip to Japan — the landlocked Asian country’s largest single aid donor — has yet to be finalized through diplomatic channels between the two countries.

During the visit, Bagabandi’s second overseas tour as president, he will have talks with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and other leaders, the sources said. Bagabandi visited Kazakhstan, Turkey and Kuwait last month.

After taking office following last May’s election, Bagabandi expressed a strong desire to make Japan the destination of his first overseas trip. Although Tokyo and Ulan Bator had originally planned his Japan visit for sometime in February, it was delayed by scheduling difficulties in Japan.

Japan has spearheaded international efforts to assist impoverished Mongolia — once a staunch ally of the former Soviet Union — in its transition to a free-market economy from a socialist-style, centrally planned economic system.

Japan has hosted a meeting of aid donor nations and organizations for Mongolia annually since 1991. At the last meeting, held in October, Mongolia received pledges of $250 million in fresh aid for 1998. Of that amount, about one-quarter was promised by Tokyo.

After four consecutive years of decline, the Mongolian economy posted modest growth of 2.1 percent in 1994 and sturdy growth of 6.3 percent in 1995. But the growth pace has since slowed sharply, to 2.6 percent in 1996 and 3.2 percent last year, largely due to slumping prices on the international marketplace of such major Mongolian exports as copper.

Mongolia relies on copper for more than half of its export earnings. One-quarter of Mongolia’s 2.4 million people continue to live in poverty, and inflation and unemployment remain at high levels.

The free-market reforms have accelerated under the government of Prime Minister Mendsaikhani Enkhsaikhan, who took office in June 1996 after his Democratic Union Coalition won elections to oust the former communist Mongolian People’s Party after 75 years of rule.

Enkhsaikhan visited Tokyo in February last year to mark the 25th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.

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