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Russia: Moscow Soccer Riot Leaves Authorities Searching For Answers

Russian authorities have opened an investigation after thousands of soccer fans went on a rampage in the Russian capital yesterday, killing two men and injuring dozens more. Several central streets in Moscow were transformed into a battlefield following Russia's defeat in its World Cup soccer match against Japan. Russian soccer fans expressed their frustration by setting cars ablaze, smashing store windows, and battling police and other bystanders.

Moscow, 10 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian authorities have opened an investigation into yesterday's riots in central Moscow following Russia's 0-1 defeat against Japan in the World Cup soccer tournament. Two people were killed and as many as 100 injured in the violence.

The riot occurred when thousands of soccer fans who had been watching the match on an outdoor screen in the city's Manezh Square next to the Kremlin -- primarily teenage boys and young men -- grew angry during the second half of the match, soon after Japan had scored what would prove to be the winning goal. Once the game was over, they began a violent rampage, setting fire to automobiles, smashing store windows, and attacking pedestrians, including five Japanese musicians in Russia to attend a prestigious music competition. Hooligans also attacked a dormitory housing Vietnamese workers late Sunday, hurling empty beer bottles at the building.

Officials said a total of 8,000 fans were involved in the riots, and that 18 police officers were among the injured. Some 100 people were detained by police.

The event prompted Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to return from a trip to St. Petersburg and summon Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin for urgent talks. The Interfax news agency reported today that Gryzlov had opened an investigation into police actions during the match but had refused to accept Pronin's offer to resign.

The riot was a topic of contentious debate today in the State Duma. Aleksandr Kulikov, the deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, told RFE/RL the city police was to blame for allowing the events to get out of hand. "The completely unprofessional work of the officials of Moscow security forces [should be held responsible]. First, they should have had information about the possibility that such groups [of hooligans] could gather there, and, of course, they should have taken proactive measures. Second, they should have reacted quickly, as soon as the events turned aggressive," Kulikov said.

Kulikov also blamed city authorities for arranging the outdoor screening of the game, saying they should have known such a situation might result in violence. Yesterday's match, while not eliminating Russia from the World Cup, strikes a serious blow to their hopes of reaching the final.

Sergei Yushenkov, a lawmaker from the Liberal Russia faction, doesn't agree. He said that the police should not be blamed; rather, it is the fault of Moscow authorities who forbid democratic demonstrations but turn a blind eye to extremist gatherings. Agencies reported that some rioters were shouting racist and neo-fascist slogans, and that the crowd included supporters of the Spiritual Heritage nationalist movement.

"I wouldn't say that the law-enforcement forces are those who are guilty," Yushenkov said. "First of all, it is the policy of the Moscow authorities [that is to be blamed]. Moscow authorities forbid public meetings, demonstrations, and other events that democratic groups organize. But similar events organized by extremist organizations are allowed. I know that even in demonstrations, or pickets, where 100 people gather, you have three or four times the number of law-enforcement forces than demonstrators. But here in the center of Moscow, where you have governmental offices, a huge crowd of 15,000 people gathered and the security forces closed their eyes to it."

Sergei Ivanenko, the deputy leader of the liberal Yabloko faction, said the problem is that Russian law-enforcement officials believe these kinds of things can happen only in other countries and not in Russia. "It seems to me that the main problem with our law-enforcement services is that when they see on television disturbances of this kind [taking place] in other countries, they think that Russia is a particular country with its own particular way of development. [They think] that things like that couldn't happen in Russia. The main challenge now is not blocking off Manezh Square and dismantling those television screens from the streets of Moscow. The main challenge is being able to organize these kinds of large crowd gatherings," Ivanenko said.

Interfax cited Sergei Tsoi, spokesman for Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, as saying the city will stop showing the matches on big outdoor screens.

Meanwhile, city authorities worked overnight to clear the city center of the traces of the riot. This morning, only a few traces of yesterday's damage remained. The financial toll of the incident has yet to be calculated, but may well run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said any repeat of events like yesterday's soccer violence in central Moscow may dash the country's hopes of hosting the European soccer championship in 2008.