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23 Jun, 2007 17:07

Ethnic scuffle was no accident: Moscow witness

A Chechen national was injured in a large fight in the centre of Moscow between people of ethnic Caucasian origin and members of a radical nationalist group. Law enforcement officials say the clashes were planned and the violence could have been more seri

More than fifty people of ethnic Caucasian origin armed with pipes and steel bars scuffled with another crowd of ethnic Russians just hundreds of metres away from the Moscow Kremlin.

Dmitry Zykov is a member of an antifascist movement. He filmed the unrest and witnessed the clashes.

“It was seven or eight o'clock in the evening. At first we saw a group of Caucasians, about 40 or 50 people. And it was clear to me that they didn't come here just for fun, but for something else. They danced for some time. In the meantime skinheads were gathering in small groups nearby. Then they formed a large group of up to 100 people. Then the police persuaded them to leave. By that time the Caucasians had left,” recalls Dmitry.

However, a peaceful meeting seemed not to have been planned by the sides: after the crowds dispersed, they reappeared several hundred metres away.

“That's another square. There's a group of Caucasians appearing from a side-street. And they chase the remains of the fascist crowd. The police intervened here, they cleared the square and detained several people. But many managed to escape,” Dmitry comments another video piece he managed to shoot with his mobile phone.

Large-scale violence was staved off, but an ethnic Chechen was injured. Forty-two people – two of them minors – were detained from both sides.

Moscow authorities say it is only due to rapid and competent police actions that Friday did not turn into bloodshed. The police add the crowds' actions were not spontaneous.

“We knew that these events had been planned. Our analysts monitored the web-sites of the nationalist radical organizations and it was clear that they wanted to carry out some sort of provocation. We were also alerted by similar messages on the web-sites of ethnic Caucasians. There were open calls to take to the streets and to match strength with radicals,” expanded Viktor Biryukov from the police press service.

The city's authorities have sharply denounced the clashes.

“Any display of chauvinism, xenophobia or nationalism will be harshly repressed in the capital on the basis of the Constitution which prosecutes for national discord,” reiterated Moscow's mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Moscow is home to 120 nationalities. And the authorities fear, if the issue is not attended to, the capital could become a boiling pot of national hatred. In the meantime police say there might be more complications and patrols have been reinforced to prevent any violence.

Just in the past year Russia saw mass ethnic violence in Kondopoga in the Russian north. Also, there were other cases: the killing of a Peruvian student in Voronezh, several nationalist attacks in St. Petersburg and Moscow and many other cases across the country.

Those people who know the problem from inside say it might be a chain of provocations by somebody who wants to earn political points by trying to rock the boat.

“Unfortunately this year the problem has become very topical. This trend is developing in a negative direction. And it seems a very strange and scary coincidence that there are general elections to be held later in the year, and the next year – the presidential election. Also, just several days ago Moscow's mayor Luzhkov was re-elected for the next term,” says Kamildzhan Kalandarov, Head of Justice Muslim Organisation.