Moscow police detained hundreds of people after the murder of a Russian man provoked the worst nationalist violence in almost three years in the capital.
The riot, which state news service RIA Novosti said injured six policemen, began yesterday in the Biryulyovo residential district after a 25-year-old local inhabitant was allegedly stabbed to death Oct. 10 by a person born in Central Asia or Russia’s Caucasus region. About 1,200 people were rounded up today during a police raid on a vegetable storage facility that was ransacked along with a shopping center, RIA reported.
President Vladimir Putin faces a growing challenge from nationalist groups as tensions grow between ethnic Russians and migrant laborers. In December 2010, hundreds of riot police were deployed to quell nationalist riots near Red Square, which were provoked by the shooting of a soccer fan by migrants from Russia’s southern Muslim provinces.
“This is a major warning bell because for the first time in Moscow, you’ve had severe unrest involving not just soccer fans but local residents too,” Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Moscow-based SOVA research center, which tracks xenophobia, said today by phone.
A thousand people participated in the unrest yesterday and 380 were detained, Vasily Oleynik, deputy head of Moscow’s regional safety department, was cited as saying by RIA. Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev held an emergency meeting after the clashes, Moscow police said today on their website.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s office is conducting a review of the vegetable storehouse and will also investigate other markets in Moscow, according to a statement on its website. Police have been ordered to find the killer as soon as possible and Putin has been informed about the situation, the mayor’s office said.
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who challenged Putin ally Sobyanin for Moscow mayor in last month’s elections with promises to rein in migration, called for the city’s police chief to resign and urged authorities to impose tougher visa restrictions for workers from Central Asia.
“Sobyanin should come himself to Biryulyovo and address the crowd,” Navalny said on his Twitter Inc. account. “We need a root-and-branch reform of the courts, police and visa regime with Central Asia.”
Footage of the riot showed protesters shouting “Russians for Russia, Moscow for Muscovites” and holding Russian flags. Moscow, the biggest city in the former Soviet Union, is a magnet for Russian speakers seeking a better life and improved job prospects, resulting in tension with Muscovites.
The authorities released all but 72 people today, with two facing possible criminal charges, RIA reported, citing the Moscow police.
“The pogrom in Biryulyovo isn’t an ethno-cultural conflict,” billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who ran for president against Putin in March last year, said on his blog today. “The citizens have long been pushed away from finding solutions to their own problems, and they’ve lost faith in the court and law-enforcement systems.”
While Sobyanin has targeted illegal migrants through police raids, Navalny accuses municipal authorities of employing migrants as cleaners and plumbers to pocket as much as half of their wages. He proposed a ban on migrant labor at state agencies, including for contractors who employ them.
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