Moscow mayor targets street stalls in explosive start

Moscow mayor targets street stalls in explosive start

22nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow's new mayor, begins his newly-appointed career with active initiatives like ridding the city of street kiosk stalls.

MOSCOW -- The new mayor of Moscow, appointed just last month, has hit the ground running with a breathless demolition campaign against the street stalls that dotted the Russian capital for the past decades.

Sergei Sobyanin, a little-known federal government figure was inaugurated to head Moscow last month after long-serving former mayor Yury Luzhkov was ruthlessly sacked by President Dmitry Medvedev in September.

His first order of business was examining Moscow's horrendous traffic jams, every Muscovite's pet peeve.

But most attention has been given to his campaign against commerce stands in central Moscow, which are especially prevalent near metro stations and sell anything from kebabs to Bolshoi tickets.

Russian Federation, Moscow : A truck evacuates debris of a demolished street stall in central Moscow on 9 November 2010

They have been a feature of the Moscow cityscape since the early years after the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s when private business had to rapidly fill the hole left by the end of the planned economy.

Some 650 booths will be demolished in the centre, a spokesman for the central prefecture told ITAR-TASS.

"They have been erected illegally, they hinder pedestrian traffic, and spoil the cityscape," he said, referring to the mayor's decree.

Kroshka-Kartoshka, a chain selling baked potatoes at 300 Moscow locations, had to move about 30 booths, marketing director Mikhail Kudryavtsev told AFP. "They were all legal," he said.

The kiosk crackdown gained momentum after Sobyanin fired two Moscow officials who tolerated the stalls that crowded Belorussky train station and a monument in central Moscow.

Other district officials were quick to declare war against kiosks in their own districts to keep their posts. However many have taken a step too far by ordering to remove even legitimate businesses on long-term rental contracts.

"The mood of low-ranking city officials is close to panic, they don't even look at documents, their only thought is to stay in their jobs," said Kudryavtsev.

Sobyanin, a native of Siberia, was practically unknown to the general public prior to his appointment by the Kremlin which only required rubber-stamping from the local parliament to be effective.

Some 65 percent of Muscovites heard about Sobyanin for the first time when he was appointed, state pollster Public Opinion Foundation said late last month.

The radical stall removal is a "classic start of a new public official" who wants to "quickly demonstrate qualities of a decisive politician," said political analyst Evgeny Minchenko of the Center for Political Expertise.

By removing two officials as part of his campaign Sobyanin has instantly created a huge public impact, he said.

Sobyanin's cause celebre was already on Yury Luzhkov's agenda several years ago. In 2007 he said there were 12,000 kiosks in the capital and vowed to remove them all within a year, but plans were changed by the economic crisis.

Russian Federation, Moscow : A man looks at a truck evacuating debris of a demolished street stall in central Moscow

In an equally attention-grabbing proposal that harks back to the eccentricities of Moscow's former mayor, Sobyanin said on Monday that concrete fences should be replaced by transparent ones that don't attempt to hide "disgraces" of industrial Moscow.

He has also made key staff changes, including the symbolic replacement of Luzhkov's stern spokesman of 20 years Sergei Tsoi with a younger Gulnara Penkova, who previously worked in the Kremlin press service.

Medvedev has strongly backed the mayor's plans to ease traffic congestion, naming Moscow's transport woes an "acute problem that should be addressed immediately" and "a test of the authorities' abilities."

The Kremlin published on Monday a list of orders for the government and Moscow City Hall to work out solutions for the capital's gridlock, which has grown steadily worse over the past decade.

Maria Antonova / AFP / Expatica

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