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Russian Ecologists, Developers Argue Over Moscow-St. Pete Highway Route

Yevgenia Chirikova (R) at the site of the planned highway, where trees have been felled in Khimki Forest near Moscow
MOSCOW -- Russian officials and construction company representatives have rejected alternative routes proposed by environmentalists for the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway as too expensive and likely to prolong the construction process, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The original government-approved route, which would cut through the Khimki forest near the Moscow Oblast town of Khimki, is opposed by both ecologists and residents. President Dmitry Medvedev called last month for a halt to forest clearance work following a wave of protests.

At a press conference on September 7, rights activist and ecologist Andrei Margulev stressed that the Khimki forest is the second-most significant forested area near Moscow. He said construction of the road through the forest would destroy its ecosystem.

But the highway project's chief engineer, Nikolai Kuznetsov, said the route approved by the government through the forest was the cheapest.

Earlier the same day, Yevgenia Chirikova, the leader of the Khimki Forest Defenders, said she and her fellow activists had been prevented by law enforcement officials from publishing a newspaper in which they intended to present their own plans for alternative routes for the highway.

Chirikova has been protesting the plan to build the highway for the past three years with her civic group, Ecodefense, and the Khimki Forest Defenders. She and several other protesters have been arrested in recent months for their activities in a campaign that has gained national and even international attention.