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Hundreds Protest Planned Russian Highway

IRKUTSK, Russia -- Hundreds of people have protested against the planned construction of a highway through the Kai Forest near the east Russian city of Irkutsk, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The demonstrators gathered in front of the Irkutsk mayor's office with placards saying such things as "Deputies! Consider Our Views When Planning Infrastructure!" and "The New Construction Plan: A City Without Lungs!"

The protesters question the rationale for the new highway. Local environmental organizations Baikal Ecological Wave and For Our Home supported the protest.

The plan approved by the local authorities entails the large-scale clearance of trees and the demolition of dozens of private homes.

The protesters say they formally applied two weeks ago for permission to hold the protest on September 29, but the mayor's office only granted permission at the last moment.

Neither Irkutsk Mayor Viktor Kondrashov nor local Duma deputies came to talk to the protesters.

But Irkutsk Oblast Governor Dmitry Mezentsev met with the protesters and promised to "solve the problem," RFE/RL reports.

Mezentsev approached one of the protesters, Larisa, who was holding a placard saying "We Will Not Cede Kai Forest For Construction!"

Mezentsev underlined the words "We Will Not Cede" with a marker and wrote: "I Agree. September 29, 2011" before adding his signature.

Irkutsk is the capital of the Irkutsk Oblast and has a population of some 587,000.

Read more in Russian here