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Russia: Kondopoga Violence Continues Unabated

The aftermath of rioting in Kondopoga (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, September 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Last night, a sports school was torched in Kondopoga, a small city of 35,000 inhabitants in the northwestern Karelia Republic.

Reports say that one of the trainers employed there is of Caucasus origin and that several families from Central Asia were living in the school at the time.

Chain Of Events

The incident was the latest in a string of attacks against ethnic Chechens and other ethnic minorities in Kondopoga that has prompted dozens of Chechen families to flee the city.

The violence was sparked by restaurant brawl between ethnic Russians and Chechens last week that left two of the Russians dead. The restaurant, "Chaika," was owned by a Chechen man.

Angry mobs burned down the restaurant where the Russians were killed and destroyed a street market and several stores owned by Chechens and other people from the Caucasus.

The violence has been accompanied by street rallies in Kondopoga demanding the expulsion of immigrants.

Several nationalist parties have expressed support for the riots. Some reports claim these parties actually orchestrated them.

Aleksandr Belov, the leader of the radical Movement Against Illegal Migration, denies involvement in the rampage. But he backed the protests in Kondopoga during a news conference in Moscow on September 5.

"People gathered spontaneously to express their demands," Belov said. "Their demands were simple: [foreigners] get out of here, you have 24 hours. Why? You've come here without invitation and we're fed up with you. These are the two reasons behind the problems in Kondopoga and elsewhere."

Belov said representatives of his movement, know for its aggressive xenophobic rhetoric, had plans to station representatives permanently in Karelia to "help," in his words, local residents.

Nationalists Unite

But the Movement Against Illegal Migration is not the only group to publicly support the events in Kondopoga.

Nikolai Kuryanovich, a deputy from the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, joined forces with Belov at the news conference.

This is the solution he proposed to tackle ethnic tensions in Russia.

"Once again, this time totally, subjugate the Caucasus and toughen migration laws," Kuryanovich said. "Total cleansing. All criminal elements must be brought to responsibility -- even destroyed -- like the president said. We are waiting for him to make good on his promise to 'wipe them out in the outhouse.'"

Kuryanovich also proposed to build what he called a "wall of China" that would separate the North Caucasus republics from the rest of Russia.

Despite President Vladimir Putin's silence, the crisis in Kondopoga has spiraled into a national issue.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the prime minister of the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya, has blamed Karelian officials for failing to stop the riots and has vowed to restore order if necessary.

Outside Intervention

The deputy head of the Chechen parliament, Idris Usmanov, traveled to Kondopoga this week to help pacify the city. He spoke to reporters today.

A law-enforcement officer addresses a crowd in the first days of rioting (ITAR-TASS)

"What happened here undermines the constitutional foundations of the state, and by our presence here we want to influence the situation at least a little bit and help it take a positive direction," Usmanov said.

Rights activists sat this is the first time that natives of the Caucasus have been forced to flee a Russian town for their lives. They fear that Kondopoga's unrest could spread to other regions.

According to the head of Karelia, Sergei Katanandov, an unidentified group is using the Internet and mobile phones to incite young people to stage similar mob violence in the nearby city of Petrozavodsk.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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