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Russian Ecologists Say Khimki Forest Being Cut Down For Highway

Activists demonstrate in Moscow in May against the clearing of the forest.

Activists demonstrate in Moscow in May against the clearing of the forest.

MOSCOW -- Russian environmentalists are warning that workers have begun clearing a swath of the Khimki forest for the new Moscow-St. Petersburg highway, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

More that 20,000 activists have signed an appeal sent to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to stop the destruction of the forest.

The organization Protect Khimki Forest said the decision to build the highway was made secretly and therefore violates the law.

Activists protested in central Moscow on July 14, demanding that both the Khimki forest and Bitsevsky Park -- where there are plans to build a new metro station -- be protected by officials from any further development.

Environmentalists also claim that reported recent problems with the two-lane highway that connects Moscow and St. Petersburg were artificially created in order to help gain approval for the construction of the new highway.

There have been several protests against the new highway in recent years.

In May, around 20 people held a protest, claiming the developers didn't have the necessary permits to work on the highway.

In 2008, Mikhail Beketov, the editor of Khimki's local newspaper, was severely beaten at his home after writing articles denouncing local authorities for allowing the highway to be built. He suffered brain damage and is physically handicapped as a result of the attack.

In November 2009, on the first anniversary of the attack on Beketov, members of the Protect Khimki Forest movement and the opposition party Yabloko gathered in Moscow to demand an investigation into the assault on Beketov and that construction of the highway to be halted.