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Official Account Of Brawl In Russia's Far East Disputed

Uzbek migrant workers in Vladivostok
Uzbek migrant workers in Vladivostok
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Supporters of migrant workers involved in a recent brawl with security forces in Russia's Far East have disputed an official account that blamed the fracas on alcohol, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Officials said up to 100 construction workers from other former Soviet republics clashed with security officers at on the island of Russky in the Sea of Japan late on August 28.

Three police cars were destroyed and local authorities brought in OMON security forces to restore control.

Primorye regional police officials told RFE/RL that a total of 10 men, some workers and some security personnel, were injured in the clashes.

One of them, a construction worker who was badly savaged by a dog, was hospitalized.

The workers are among thousands from former Soviet republics, Turkey, and other countries who have been brought to the island to build infrastructure for next year's Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Yekaterina Chernenko, press secretary for the Krokus construction company that employs the workers, told journalists the clashes started when some workers tried to smuggle alcohol into the construction site to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Chernenko said the company's internal policies banned alcohol on its construction sites. She said the fracas began when security officers tried to thwart that attempt.

But Sheikh Abdulla Ishmukhamedov of the Islamic Directorate of Russia's Asian territories told RFE/RL the company's explanation lacked credibility.

"Islam bans alcohol, especially during religious holidays. It is very likely that the conflict on the island of Russky was caused by low salaries and/or the conditions the migrant workers face. I talked to some of the workers by phone several days ago. They again complained that their salaries were too low," Ishmukhamedov said.

Ishmukhamedov said the migrant workers work 70 hours a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and are paid just 15,000 rubles ($520) a month.

Vladivostok City Duma Deputy Nikolai Markovtsev told RFE/RL that the conflict had been brewing for a long time. He said the clashes were not caused by "a bottle of vodka," but by the migrant workers' poor living conditions and failure to receive their wages on time. He added that the food they were provided with is of very poor quality.

Markovtsev predicted further such clashes in light of cuts in federal funding for the construction of buildings intended to host the APEC summit. Those funding cuts will mean construction workers' wages will be curtailed or not paid on time, he said.

Read more in Russian here