Attack on nuclear demonstrators in Russia leaves 1 dead

Saturday, July 21, 2007

MOSCOW (AP): Attackers dressed in dark clothes and wielding metal pipes raided a camp of environmentalists protesting nuclear waste processing at a Siberian chemicals plant early Saturday, killing one activist.

Witnesses say the attackers shouted nationalist slogans as they rampaged through the forest tent camp near the city of Angarsk, about 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) east of Moscow. But police rejected suggestions that extremist groups had masterminded the attack.

Though there was no indication that the attack was ethnically motivated, there have been a wave of hate crimes reported in recent years. Rights activists say nationalist groups are emboldened by authorities' reluctance to take tough measures against these crimes.

Of the eight protesters who were hospitalized, one later died from his wounds, said a spokeswoman for the Angarsk city administration. She said she was not authorized to give her name.

Television footage showed dazed-looking protesters sitting amid the disheveled remnants of the camp.

"They were well prepared, wearing masks," Andrei Kravchuk, one of the demonstrators who was in the camp when the raid happened at 5 a.m. (0100 GMT), was quoted as saying by the NTV channel.

"They shouted nationalist slogans, I don't know why — this is an environmental camp," he said.

Calls to the headquarters of Defending the Rainbow, one of the groups reportedly involved in the protest, went unanswered.

Police said they detained four of the 15 attackers and were investigating the deadly incident as "hooliganism" and "intentional grievous bodily harm resulting in death," Russian news agencies said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Valery Grigakin dismissed suggestions that an extremist gang was involved.

"All of those detained are young people. Some of them are unemployed, some are students," he was quoted by the ITAR-Tass agency as saying.

"As they explained ... They wanted to run amok and get some money out of the tourists and the people at the camp," he said in televised remarks.

All of those detained were area residents, according to news reports. The anti-nuclear protesters had traveled to the camp from other cities around Russia.

Environmental activists have frequently held demonstrations against the state-owned Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Plant, which processes uranium for the nuclear power industry.

Activists charge that Russia plans to become a center for processing and storing spent fuel from abroad, and that the Angarsk plant could be part of the lucrative business.

"Angarsk is not a nuclear dump," read one sign lying on the ground at the camp.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom, said that under Russian law the agency can import spent nuclear fuel from abroad, but has no plans to do so.

Though the country has foreign contracts in place that date from the 1990s for processing low-enriched uranium, they will expire in 2009 and will not be extended, he told the Associated Press.

"We haven't imported foreign spent nuclear fuel, and we will not import it," Novikov said.

Angarsk is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the southern tip of Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake and a symbol of Russia's environmental heritage.

Under a plan laid out by President Vladimir Putin in 2006, the Angarsk plant would become a center for uranium enrichment. Russia has said this central enrichment center could produce fuel that can power nuclear plants, but not be used to build weapons.

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