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21 Dec, 2008 17:28

Not a whole Lada love in the far east

Russia has seen a wave of protests by motorists and car dealers in seven cities against a government decision to raise customs duties on imported foreign cars from January.

On Sunday, protests were staged in several regions across Russia, including Moscow. However, the largest took place in Russia's Far East. Here, many people earn their living by re-selling used cars from Japan.

According to one protestor, working in the import business is the only way to survive in the region.

“As for the local people, 85% survive on the auto business – unlucky, poor people we are.. look around, we are not millionaires,” said the protestor.

In Vladivostok alone up to 1000 people gathered for the unauthorised protest rally. However, as soon as protesters had unfurled their posters, police squeezed them from the spot. Some people were detained.

In another Far East city Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk between 500 to 700 people participated in a demonstration. Having gathered near the local Lada car centre, they demanded a repeal of the decision on raising customs duties and also lowering high petrol prices.

In the Far East nearly a quarter of a million people earn their living from delivering and reselling cars from Japan.

With the new higher taxes, families may find it difficult maintain a steady income.

Vyachesav Lysakov, leader of the car owners organisation “Liberty of choice”, says the taxes will only make the already poor economic sitation in the region worse.

“There is no other job in the small towns there. The people are facing a totally desperate situation. This can lead to criminal activity and disorder in the region,” said Lysakov.

During Soviet times, Russia's Far East used to survive on fishing with the largest international sea port in the country. Since perestroika, however, the economy has struggled and people have turned to the car-import market to make a living.

The protestors have met resistance, however. Workers at Russian car plants have started their own picket line encouraging the import taxes.

“Let the foreign cars not be on our market, may the domestic car industry stand up from its knees,” said engineer Alexander Maltsev.

While it seems logical to encourage domestic production, many see the Russian-made vehicle as inferior, and the production of Russian cars inefficient.

“If our country begins to produce a car which suits me, then it wouldn't matter where it was made. And if there is a mark saying 'Made in Russia', then it'll please me more. But Russia doesn't produce what I need today,” said Muscovite Sergey Aslanyan.

This year alone the amount of foreign cars purchased by Russian increased by thirty-one per cent.

According to the Association of European businesses statistics, their preference was due to better quality and up to date technology.

With the new measures encouraging the domestic car industry, Russia is facing new challenges. On one hand, it is essential to support millions of its employees during the tough times of crisis. But on the other, there is a need for compromise with those surviving on the resale of foreign car imports.