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Protest Over Russian Forest Turns Violent


Demonstrators throw stones and smoke bombs at a regional administration building in Khimki.
A protest against the felling of a Moscow forest turned violent after demonstrators attacked a regional administration building. But the environmental activists who were arrested in a police crackdown say they had nothing to do with the incident.

Hundreds of young protesters set off firecrackers and threw rocks at an administration building in the suburb of Khimki on July 28. Some wore facemasks and set off smoke bombs during a demonstration against the destruction of a forest to make way for a new highway.

Security officers inside the building said they called the police only after the protesters had dispersed. No one was arrested at the scene.

But elsewhere, in the Khimki forest, police later detained nine environmental activists who've been protesting plans for the new road for weeks. Among those detained was protest organizer Yevgenia Chirikova, who said her group had nothing to do with the violent demonstrations the environmentalists say were led by extremist groups.

Yevgenia Chirikova: "It's a bizarre situation."
'Asked To Leave'

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service from a jail cell, Chirikova said a large group of police showed up at a forest clearing where she and other protesters had been stationed for weeks.

"They said we had no right to be in the forest according to a decree from the governor, and we were asked to leave," she said. "But after we got to the road, they grabbed us and shoved us onto buses."

Chirikova says she and eight other activists are being held in a hot, stuffy cell without water, and that she'd lost consciousness several times.

"It's a bizarre situation," she said. "I don’t know when or even if I'll be released."

Chirikova blamed the violence on the authorities' refusal to listen to protesters' demands.

"Some groups decided to make their views heard in any way possible," she told Ekho Moskvy Radio. She said her own group used "European" methods of protest instead, including writing letters and organizing discussions.

Local Journalist Crippled

Police say the detained activists are not implicated in the July 28 violence. A spokesman said a court would examine charges, including the holding of an unsanctioned protest, and that the activists would probably be fined and released.

Police usually stifle opposition protests in Russia with overwhelming force. But officials said they had permitted the July 28 rally against the new highway, after which a group of about 90 people showed up at the Khimki administration building.

Police said the demonstrators belonged to antifascist and anarchist groups.

The planned new highway is meant to relieve heavy traffic between Moscow and one of the city's main airports. But the plans have been controversial for years because they entail cutting down much of what environmentalists say is an important, old-growth forest.

A local journalist who helped lead the campaign against the new road was beaten and left for dead two years ago. He remains crippled and brain damaged.

written by Gregory Feifer
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