Violence erupts at protest over Russian forest
Russian demonstrators hurled smoke bombs and smashed windows in a rare violent protest against the building of a road through a forest outside Moscow, officials said Thursday.
Pictures broadcast on Russian television and the Internet showed the administration building in the town of Khimki engulfed in smoke and surrounded by broken glass after the protest by hundreds of people late on Wednesday.
Such violent protests are extremely rare in Russia, where police normally rapidly clamp down even on peaceful demonstrations that are unauthorised.
Police said an initial group of 90 people suddenly appeared outside the administration building in the early evening. Reports said the numbers then swelled to around 500.
"They shouted slogans in support of the Khimki forest. Shots were fired and glass bottles were thrown," Moscow police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev told the Echo of Moscow radio station
He said that when police arrived at the scene the protestors had dispersed but they were now trying to arrest those behind the unrest.
"Several police units were dispatched but when they arrived on the scene they found no one," Gildeyev said. "We have information that they (the protestors) went to the station and left for Moscow."
The protestors travelled to Khimki by train after gathering at a concert in central Moscow, Kommersant newspaper reported.
A video posted on the town's municipal web site showed hundreds of protestors, some wearing masks, marching through the town centre, meeting no resistance.
The protestors scrawled slogans including "Save the Russian forest" on the municipal building and smashed several windows, but did not go inside. There were no reports of any injuries.
NTV television said that air pistols and stun guns were among the weapons employed in the protest. The Kommersant daily said that 400-500 people from "anti-fascist" and anarchist groups were involved in the action.
The authorities of the Moscow region are "outraged by such acts," a spokesman for the Moscow region governor Boris Gromov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
In a possible response to the protest, police on Wednesday evening detained nine environmental activists at the road construction site in the forest, including their leader, Yevgeniya Chirikova, the Interfax news agency reported.
Chirikova was still in detention on Thursday afternoon, the Echo of Moscow reported.
Chirikova had teamed up with leftwing umbrella group Left Front in anti-road protests.
Ecological activists who have been protesting against the razing of the forest in recent weeks insisted they had no role in the violence which they said had been perpetrated by extremists.
"I am truly disappointed that extremists and provocateurs are more and more mixing themselves up with the true ecologists and genuine defenders of the Khimki forest," lawmaker Anton Belyakov told Echo of Moscow.
"I sure that the police will be able to see which ones are trying to destabilise the situation under cover of protecting the Khimki forest," he added.
The new Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway planned through the forest is aimed at relieving chronic traffic congestion in the area close to the Sheremetyevo airport.
The protest on Wednesday echoed previous protests by radical leftwing activists.
In 2008 activists from the banned National Bolshevik party stormed the headquarters of Russian Railways, lighting flares and hanging a banner from a window, demanding better conditions for rail workers.
© 2010 AFP