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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Piter Finds Culprit in Race Killings . . . It's Moscow!

The New York Times reports that St. Petersburg is trying to blame its race violence on Moscow and its local police feel that too much attention is being paid to the killings while crimes involving "our guys" are being ignored:

MOSCOW, May 24 — The authorities in St. Petersburg announced today that a loosely organized extremist group had committed a string of racially motivated killings that have shocked Russia, including the murder of an African student in April and that of a prominent expert on hate crimes nearly two years ago. The authorities said they had broken up the group after the recent arrests of five of its members. Two others appeared to have been arrested earlier on separate charges, while an eighth was shot to death as the police tried to arrest him late last Thursday. In a series of raids, the authorities said, the police seized weapons, explosives and stacks of neo-Nazi and extremist literature from their apartments. Though charges have not yet been filed, let alone tried in court, the case amounted to a rare judicial success in Russia's fight against a deadly wave of racism and xenophobia that has resulted in at least 48 murders and scores of assaults across the country in the last year and a half alone.

Even as officials made the announcement, however, they played down the scope of racially motivated crimes in Russia and specifically in St. Petersburg, which has been the scene of some of the most grisly killings, including that of a 9-year-old Tajik girl in 2004. It is also President Vladimir V. Putin's hometown and the site of this year's meeting of the leaders of the Group of Eight.

"Petersburg has never been and, by definition, by its very spirit, cannot be a capital of xenophobia," the governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina I. Matviyenko, said in remarks posted on her official Web site. In remarks not on the site but shown later on television, she suggested the roots of hate crimes in Russia lay not in her city, but in Moscow.

"We know the perpetrators," she said. "The traces apparently lead to Moscow."

According to the Sova Center, a research organization in Moscow that tracks hate crimes, there have already been at least 17 racially motivated murders in Russia already this year, a pace that would exceed last year's total of 31. The organization has tallied at least 104 violent assaults. Most of the victims are visitors from Asia or Africa or members of Russia's myriad ethnic groups, many of whom have migrate to Moscow and other large cities in search of work. Racially tinged violence is routine, with attacks occurring almost daily. Many more are believed to remain unreported by immigrants who fear police retaliation or abuse.

The public attention on extremism has clearly irritated officials. St. Petersburg's chief of police, Mikhail G. Vanichkin, underscored that when he appeared at a government conference on racism and suggested that too much attention was being paid to attacks on foreigners. "It is insulting that all these efforts are being directed at solving crimes involving foreigners," he said in remarks widely quoted in the Russian media, "while attacks on our guys are not being investigated fully."

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