Russia detains over 1,000 amid ethnic tensions

Updated: 2010-12-16 10:40


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Russia detains over 1,000 amid ethnic tensions
Police officers detain a man during an operation to prevent outbreaks of ethnic violence near a train station in Moscow, December 15, 2010. [Photo/Agencies]

MOSCOW - Fearing more clashes between racist hooligans and mostly Muslim ethnic minorities, police detained more than 1,000 people in Moscow and several other Russian cities, after weekend rioting in the capital left dozens injured.

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Hundreds of riot police outside the Kievsky station in central Moscow hauled into police vans mostly young men and teenagers who were shouting racist slogans and raising their hands in Nazi salutes. Some were lined up against buses and searched by police on Wednesday. Officers confiscated an arsenal of weapons, including traumatic guns, knives and metal bars, police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said.

Police rounded up about 60 protesters in St. Petersburg, where radical groups also planned a gathering Wednesday.

Riot police prevented clashes in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, southern Russian cities with large non-Slavic populations where ethnic clashes have been frequent in recent years, officials said. Dozens of mostly young men have been detained in central Russia and Siberia, Russian news agencies reported.

Resentment has been rising among Slavic Russians over the growing presence in Moscow and elsewhere of people from the southern Caucasus region, most of them Muslims. People from other parts of the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, also face ethnic discrimination and are frequent victims of hate crimes.

While ethnic Russians amount to about four-fifths of Russia's population of 142 million, the country is also home to some 180 ethnic groups. The Caucasus region with its mountainous terrain and isolated valleys is home to at least 100 ethnicities including Chechens, who waged two separatist wars against Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Analysts say it was the Chechen conflict, with atrocities and killings of civilians committed by both Russian federal forces and militant Islamists, that triggered the rise of xenophobia and neo-Nazism in Russia - and the growing resentment of Caucasus natives to ethnic Russians and Moscow's rule.

Despite poverty and instability, the Caucasus region has Russia's highest birth rate, and tens of thousands of young people flee home for central Russia and Siberian oil towns in search of jobs and a better future.

The Kievsky train station, where most of the detentions took place, is popular with street merchants from the Caucasus. The majority of those detained were Slavic Russians, although some ethnic minorities from the Caucasus were also taken into custody.

Police declined immediate comment on when those detained would be released or whether they would face charges.

An expert on hate crimes predicted, however, that most of them would be released shortly.

"Police will ride them around town and let them go; they won't find enough place for them in police stations," Alexander Verkhovsky of the Sova center told the online daily.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said no injuries were reported.

"Police will severely punish any provocations and violence," he said in televised remarks.

Authorities sought to prevent the kind of rioting that took place outside the Kremlin on Saturday, when mainly football fans chanted "Russia for Russians!" during clashes in which dozens of people were injured. Many football fans are linked with neo-Nazis and other radical racist groups that mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The violence over the weekend had raised new doubts about the government's ability to control the rising tide of xenophobia, which poses a serious threat to Russia's existence as a multiethnic state. It also embarrassed the Kremlin just days after FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia, and raised questions about Russia's ability to safely stage international sporting events, including the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

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