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Russian Activists Protest Planned Highway Near St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Dozens of environmental activists have protested in St. Petersburg to demand a revision of plans to construct a highway through a local forest, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The demonstration to preserve the Siver Forest took place in front of the Leningrad Oblast government building in the center of Russia's second-largest city. Protesters held signs that read "Siver Forest: SOS."

The forest, which is near the town of Siversky, is known as "the northern Switzerland." Its thick coniferous forest and red sand banks of the Oredezh River are designated a protected area under local legislation.

But earlier this year, some 38 hectares of the forest was officially redesignated as nonrecreational and preparations are currently under way for a highway to be constructed across that land, RFE/RL reported.

Yekaterina Konstantinova, a member of the Siver Forest Defenders movement, told RFE/RL the decision to redesignate part of the rare forest as nonrecreational was illegal. She said preparations for construction of the new highway are almost complete and the construction work could start at any time.

The protesters said the municipal council of Siversky -- which is about 40 kilometers from St. Petersburg -- has never issued a permit to start construction on the highway, and therefore the project should be suspended.

Russian officials are already engaged in a bitter dispute with protesters in the capital, Moscow, over a planned road through the Khimki Forest.

Read more in Russian here