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Guardian: Hundreds of Chechens forced to flee Russian town

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  • Jeremy Putley
    The Guardian Hundreds of Chechens forced to flee Russian town as restaurant brawl erupts into race riot • Xenophobic groups use fight to urge ethnic attacks
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2006
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      The Guardian

      Hundreds of Chechens forced to flee Russian town as restaurant brawl
      erupts into race riot

      • Xenophobic groups use fight to urge ethnic attacks
      • Minorities targeted in internet campaign

      Tom Parfitt in Moscow
      Tuesday September 5, 2006

      Several hundred Chechens and dark-skinned people from the Caucasus
      have been forced to flee a town in north-west Russia after a brawl
      in a restaurant prompted a race riot at the weekend.
      The exodus of minorities from Kondopoga in the Karelia region near
      the border with Finland follows events on Saturday when a mob
      rampaged through the town and burned down the Chayka (Seagull)
      restaurant belonging to an Azeri businessman. The conflict was
      triggered by the death last week of two ethnic Russians after a
      fight in the restaurant.

      That fight apparently started when a group of Russians celebrating
      the release of a friend from prison argued with an Azeri barman, who
      then called the restaurant's partly Chechen security.
      Six people were later detained in connection with the fight, which
      involved about 25 people - some armed with knives, baseball bats and
      iron bars - and also left three seriously injured.

      Police said yesterday that 109 people had been arrested in
      connection with the riots, which developed after a demonstration
      about the restaurant brawl on Saturday. The protest of about 2,000
      people was partly organised by xenophobic groups calling for revenge
      on Caucasians over the internet.

      No one was hurt but several businesses belonging to people from the
      Caucasus were attacked at the weekend and local authorities helped
      about 30 Chechen families flee in buses to safety in another town.
      The riots reflect growing social tension after a wave of racist
      attacks that have seen ultra-right groups target immigrants and
      people from Russia's north Caucasus republics. Last month 10 people
      died when two men placed bombs in a Moscow market where they thought
      there were too many Asian traders.

      Ramzan Kadyrov, the prime minister of Chechnya, launched an attack
      on police in Karelia yesterday, blaming them for not taking stronger
      action against rioters.

      "I appeal to the Russian authorities, to all sane Russian forces to
      do the utmost to prevent the nationalist infection and xenophobia
      that is ripening in society and spreading like a cancer throughout
      the body of our common home," he said.

      He called for a ban on the Movement Against Illegal Immigration
      (DPNI), which he blamed for inflaming the situation.

      Alexander Smirnov, a spokesman for Karelia governor Sergei
      Katanandov, said prosecutors were investigating video footage of
      DPNI activists' participation in the demonstration that led to the
      pogrom.

      Mr Katanandov earlier told reporters that locals' "expression of
      rightful indignation over the death of our compatriots in a bloody
      showdown" at the restaurant had been hijacked by hooligans.

      Mr Smirnov added: "This was a domestic conflict that several
      extremist websites used to try to wind up the population, especially
      young people."

      In an interview with the Guardian, the DPNI leader Alexander Belov
      denied he had caused the riots. He said his organisation had helped
      erect a stage and urged locals to demand that authorities expel
      Caucasians who arrived after 1991 because they "did not fit in".

      "Some young people decided to take matters into their hands," he
      said. "I warned them to be responsible. But they said, 'We can't
      take it any more.'"

      Mr Belov said animosity was high against Chechens because people
      thought they had behaved with cruelty during the restaurant
      brawl. "They cut people's ears, smashed bones with iron bars and
      stabbed people in the eyes," he said.

      But Viktor Birin of the Karelia state committee on national politics
      said Chechen businessmen had told him they were hated in the town
      because they had refused to give in to an extortion racket.
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