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Businesses Shuttered, Migrants Stay Home Amid Tensions Over Alleged Rape In Russian Region

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Markets where many of the workers are Kyrgyz have closed.

Some businesses owned by Central Asians have been shuttered, bus services disrupted, and Kyrgyz migrants in Sakha-Yakutia urged to stay home following two days of demonstrations that took place after police said a Kyrgyz man was suspected of raping a woman in the Russian region's capital, Yakutsk.

Tension lingered in the city 4,900 kilometers east of Moscow on March 19, a day after some 5,000 people held a rally at a stadium, many of them demanding "justice" for the victim of the alleged rape and calling for tighter restrictions on migration from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

A Kyrgyz woman named Jyldyz, who did not give her last name for fear of repercussions, told RFE/RL that she and several colleagues who were also from Central Asia decided not to go to work at the Stolichny market because they fear violence.

"Eighty percent of the workers at the market are Kyrgyz. The market also has a cafe called Kyrgyzstan. We closed our businesses as rumors spread via social networks that Yakuts started raiding businesses owned by Central Asians," she said by telephone. "We are scared to go out."

Local media reports say that at least 80 city buses in Yakutsk were not operating on March 19 after a bus driver from Central Asia was reportedly severely beaten by unidentified assailants.

The situation "is really very bad," the leader of the Kyrgyz diaspora in Yakutsk, Jazbek Bekboliev, told RFE/RL, also speaking by telephone. He said there were reports or rumors that five Kyrgyz nationals had been beaten by unknown attackers and added, "We have called on all our compatriots to stay home."

On its website, Sakha-Yakutia's government said that officials representing Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry, Migration Service, and Interior Ministry held talks with regional leader Aisen Nikolayev's chief of staff, Fyodor Borisov, discussing illegal migrants from Kyrgyzstan and related issues.

The Kyrgyz delegation, led by the deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's Migration Service, Samat Toktobolotov, held a separate meeting with Sakha-Yakutia's minister for external relations, Gavril Kirillin, the regional government said.

About 200 protesters rallied in downtown Yakutsk on March 17, demanding deportation of all labor migrants from Central Asia, after media reports quoted local police as saying that a 23-year-old Kyrgyz citizen was arrested on suspicion of abducting and raping a 36-year-old woman on March 16.

Citing police sources, reports said that two other Kyrgyz nationals were suspected of helping the main suspect abduct the woman, but they had not been arrested.

On March 18, some 5,000 people gathered at the Triumf sports stadium in Yakutsk to voice anger over the alleged crime. Nikolayev and Yakutsk Mayor Sardana Avksentyeva addressed the rally, calling on demonstrators to be calm and promised a thorough, effective investigation.

Avksentyeva told Current Time, a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that there were no "disturbances," unrest, or demonstrations in Yakutsk on March 19.

"The population is not seeking mass conflicts. Everybody understands that the [suspect's] ethnicity is not a major factor," Avksentyeva said by telephone. She said representatives of 120 ethnic groups live and work in Sakha-Yakutia.

She said that it was relatively easy for citizens of Russia's partner countries in the Eurasian Economic Union -- Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Belarus -- to enter the country temporarily, and that some remain there illegally.

According to Avksentyeva, there are some 30,000 Kyrgyz citizens living in Sakha-Yakutia, including more than 8,000 in Yakutsk, as well as more than 5,700 Armenian citizens, some 1,300 Kazakh citizens, and some 600 Belarusian citizens.

Yakuts, a Turkic-speaking indigenous people, make about half of the vast region's population of roughly 1 million.

Avksentyeva said that following the incident, city authorities in Yakutsk were checking businesses in industries such as catering, transportation, taxi services, and hair salons for signs of illegal operations.

There is tension between labor migrants from Central Asia and other residents, including ethnic Russians and other indigenous groups, in cities across Russia.

Written by Merhat Sharipzhan, with reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Current Time, Sakha Day, Yakt.ru, KyrTAG, and AKIPress
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