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Russian forest defenders say attacked near Moscow

Russian environmental activists said Friday they had been repeatedly attacked by security guards and unknown “goons” while trying to prevent logging in a Moscow region forest for a disputed highway.

The movement to defend the Khimki forest has established a camp near the logging and tried to prevent workers from operating machinery, arguing the action was illegal.

“We have been attacked by both security guards and goons dressed in civilian clothing,” the group’s coordinator Yevgenia Chirikova told AFP, adding that several activists have been taken to hospital.

“I was hit on the head from behind with something solid and lost consciousness,” said another activist, Sergei Ageyev. One member of the group ended up with a broken jaw in the nighttime attack.

Activists called the police who took two of the unidentified assailants into a police station but their identities are still not known, they said, fearing that the police will eventually let the men go.

Khimki activists and journalists have been attacked in the past, including local newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov who was left with brain damage after a brutal attack two years ago.

Chirikova’s campaign against the Khimki highway has gained popular support. A huge rally was staged last summer, led by rock singer Yury Shevchuk, and President Dmitry Medvedev responded by temporarily shelving the project.

But the Russian government decided late last year that the first modern highway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg should go ahead, despite destroying around 100 hectares (247 acres) of trees.

The Vedomosti newspaper reported on Friday that the company financing the planned told Russia’s state road company Avtodor in a letter that losses from delays in construction amounted to four billion roubles ($144 million).

Avtodor said in a statement issued Thursday that activists were lying about attacks by security guards and that all work was legal.