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Russians Protest Failure To Build Apartments In Far East

IRKUTSK, Russia -- Some 60 people staged a protest today in front of the regional government building in the Far Eastern Russian city of Irkutsk, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The protesters, most of them local teachers, medical personnel, and state employees, demanded that the apartments for which they have already paid be built.

In 2006, 212 local families applied for loans from local banks to pay for apartments to be built within the framework of a government program called "Affordable and Comfortable Housing For Russian Citizens."

The loans were provided, the payments were made, but the apartments have never been built. A construction company hired for the job has postponed work on the project several times over the past five years.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports that the protesters set up a "house-warming party table" with tea and cookies and invited passers-by to "celebrate their happy moment."

They also released a huge bunch of balloons with a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev saying that "all our letters sent to you by regular mail have been ignored, Mr. President."

The protesters were holding placards saying "212 Homeless Families -- The Result of a Crime by the Authorities," "We Are Victims of the Affordable Housing Project," and "Unaffordable Housing Is the Best Gift on Irkutsk's Anniversary."

Denis Voronov, who heads the regional state service for housing and construction control, met with the protesters and told them his staff is currently checking the situation in accordance with a request by Irkusk's regional prosecutor's office.

The protesters told journalists they may start a hunger strike if they do not receive concrete answers to their questions about the apartments.

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