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Russian Minister Says Crisis Triggering Unrest

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia faces the risk of an increasing number of protests and growing upheaval because of the global financial crisis, a deputy interior minister has said.

"The situation may be exacerbated by a growth in protests, arising from the frustration of workers over the non-payment of wages or those threatened with dismissal," the RIA news agency quoted Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky as saying.

His remarks showed how badly the crisis is affecting Russia, where the Kremlin and Russian media have tried to ease public concern over the impact of the economic slowdown, despite a contraction in the economy and a series of ruble devaluations.

Other causes of unrest could include "unpopular measures implemented under the anti-crisis program," Sukhodolsky said, adding that the number of unemployed might increase.

Riot police detained about 100 people in the far Eastern city of Vladivostok during protests on December 21 over car import duties imposed to prop up domestic car producers. Protests have also been reported in some other cities.

Moscow has pledged more than $200 billion to stave off the crisis, which has already seen companies cut jobs, salaries, and investment plans, forced consolidation in the banking sector and prompted a rise in corporate debt defaults.

Russia staged the seventh mini ruble devaluation this month on December 24 after the price of oil plunged again.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Russia faced an unprecedented danger if the economic crisis worsened.

"The situation is unprecedentedly difficult and will be unprecedentedly dangerous if it spins out of control, if we are unable to handle it. Yet today events in Vladivostok are in essence political," Gorbachev told a news conference.

Gorbachev is hailed in the West for his role in ending the Cold War but struggled to reform Soviet economic and political structures in the last days of the Soviet Union. He is vilified in much of Russia and widely blamed for the chaos that followed the Soviet Union's demise in 1991. He called for political dialogue and criticized the dispatch of OMON riot police from the Moscow region to impose order in Vladivostok.

"We have just one concern -- to get out of this situation without serious upheavals, because social and political consequences will follow," Gorbachev said.