Guardian: Hundreds of Chechens forced to flee Russian town
- 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
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
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.