Russia to build new highway despite protests: deputy PM

14th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Russian government on Tuesday agreed to build part of a new highway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg through a forest outside the capital in defiance of heated protests by ecologists.

A government commission has approved the building of the highway "taking into account all the factors," Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said according to Russian news agencies.

"We believe that from the judicial point of view the proposed route is completely legal," he said.

Four billion rubles (130 million dollars) will be paid as compensation for the ecological damage to the Khimki forest outside Moscow, he added.

President Dmitry Medvedev had earlier this year suspended the construction of the highway through Khimki forest in what was seen as a rare concession by the Russian authorities to a protest movement.

The protests had grown in magnitude throughout the summer, culminating in a rare thousands-strong rally in central Moscow led by veteran Russian rocker Yury Shevchuk.

Ecologists had decried the project for destroying an ecologically sensitive forest area and the issue had provided a rare popular rallying cause for Russia's sidelined liberal opposition.

But the lack of a proper motorway heading north out of Moscow has led to horrendous traffic congestion and Ivanov said that the idea of building the motorway was supported "by everyone".

Ivanov said that the decision on the start of construction would come as soon as the project is formally approved by Medvedev. Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the road would be built by the end of 2013, Russian news agencies said.

Several journalists and activists who addressed the issue have found themselves targeted, including local newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov who was left with brain damage after a brutal attack two years ago.

Journalist for the Kommersant daily Oleg Kashin, who also covered the issue was also savagely beaten in an attack in November that was condemned around the world.

© 2010 AFP

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