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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Racists Go Berzerk in Russia: First a Bomb in a Marketplace, now Gangs Rampaging in the Streets

The Canadian Press reports that mobs of crazed Russian racists have seized control of the town of Kondopoga, spewing forth a frenzy of hatred:

MOSCOW (AP) - A mob rampaged through a northern Russian town, setting fires, smashing windows and throwing stones in a second night of ethnically motivated violence sparked by a deadly fight last week, authorities, activists and news reports said.

Hours of violence broke out after thousands of people gathered in the centre of Kondopoga, about 1,000 kilometres north of Moscow, demanding that police expel Chechens and other ethnic minorities or investigate them for criminal ties.

Russian television networks showed daylight footage of young men throwing rocks that shattered windows at a restaurant that has been a focal point of the disorder, as a line of riot police carrying shields stood on the street outside, and of a fire raging through the restaurant's second storey after dark.

A representative of the Interior Ministry's regional branch in Karelia, the province where Kondopoga is located, told The Associated Press that rioters tried to burn cars and a supermarket in addition to the restaurant, which he said is rented by an Azerbaijani man.

Police detained about 100 people and about 20 remained in custody Sunday afternoon, facing charges of hooliganism, according to the representative, who said was not authorized to give his name to the news media. He gave no information about injuries.

The persistent violence and calls for the expulsion of people who have emigrated from Russia's North Caucasus region came after a group of ethnic Russian and Chechen men clashed last week at the restaurant, Chaika, resulting in the deaths of at least two Russian men, rights activists said. Officials say two people were killed and several others wounded in the fight Wednesday.

The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Karelia's interior minister, police Maj.-Gen. Dmitry Mikhailov, as saying that Saturday night's rioters - mostly young men and teenage boys, many of them drunk - set a car on fire and attacked the restaurant, throwing stones and trying to take alcohol and cigarettes from a storeroom.

RIA-Novosti news agency cited unidentified city police as saying that police used force against rioters in a few cases.

Mikhailov later said that two people from the Caucasus had been arrested on suspicion of murder in Wednesday's fight and that three other suspects were being sought, ITAR-Tass reported. He said 20 to 30 of the people detained during Saturday night's violence faced punishments that could include fines and 15 days in custody.

Mikhailov said commercial disputes were at the root of the unrest, but Alexander Verkhovsky, head of Sova, a Moscow-based human rights centre, said that the violence had clearly taken on a deeply ethnic motivation, with nationalists descending on Kondopoga last week.
Verkhovsky and Alexander Belov, a leader of a nationalist group called the Russian Movement

Against Illegal Immigration, both said Friday that young men were running through town yelling racist slogans, looking for apartments and businesses owned by people from the Caucasus, and burning them down. Belov claimed the restaurant was under the protection of Chechens.

The head of Karelia's administration, Sergei Katanandov, acknowledged that some of the rioters appeared motivated by ethnic bias. "We will not permit ethnic hostility," he added.

Katanandov travelled Sunday to Kondopoga, where he said authorities would meet with rival groups in a bid to ease tension. "I will not leave until you all calm down and until I see that the city is calm," he told a crowd in televised comments.

Apparently seeking to reassure residents who want the Chechens blamed for the deaths to be punished, Katanandov said that "all those who took part in the murder and the fight have been arrested . . . and these people will be held responsible."

Russia has seen a marked rise in xenophobia and racism in recent years, with a spate of attacks on foreigners, Jews and dark-skinned migrants from the impoverished Caucasus region and ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Rights groups say authorities do little to combat the problem, often choosing to prosecute blatant hate crimes against minorities as simple hooliganism.

Following terrorist attacks by militants linked to separatist rebels in Chechnya, Chechens and members of other ethnic groups from the North Caucasus have become particularly vulnerable to ethnically motivated attacks.

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