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Violence erupts at protest over Russian forest: reports

A protest against the building of a road through a forest outside Moscow turned violent when demonstrators threw stones and smoke bombs at a regional administration building, reports 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 deemed to be unsanctioned.

Police said a permitted rally had taken place earlier in the day against the building of the new highway through the forest but later an initial group of 90 people suddenly appeared outside the administration building.

“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.

He said that when police arrived at the scene the protesters 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 protesters) went to the station and left for Moscow.”

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.

Ecological activists who have been protesting against the razing of the forest in recent weeks insisted that 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,” Russian MP 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.