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By Nabi Abdullaev

Fallout From Riots Felt Across City

The Moscow Times, June 11, 2002

As Moscow cleaned up the mess left by rampaging soccer fans, the city police took the heat Monday for failing to foresee and avert the riot, and opposition political parties voiced fears that the Kremlin may use the street violence as a pretext for curbing civil liberties.

The death toll rose to two when a policeman died of his injuries Monday afternoon, Interfax reported. A teenager was stabbed to death during Sunday evening's riot, which left 75 people injured, city authorities said. Of the 49 people hospitalized, 18 were policemen.

Two foreign citizens -- an American of Indian descent and a Chinese man -- were severely beaten in the lobby of the Tverskaya metro station, the city prosecutor's office said. Both were taken to the Sklifosovsky emergency hospital.

The center of Moscow turned into a battleground when about 8,000 soccer fans who had gathered to watch a World Cup match on a giant screen set up across the street from the State Duma exploded in anger when it became clear that Russia would lose to Japan. Some fans began torching cars, smashing windows and fighting police and each other. In the end, 80 parked cars were destroyed and 227 shop windows and 45 glass advertisement stands were broken as the mob moved up Tverskaya Ulitsa.

About 1,000 municipal workers were deployed Monday to repair the storefronts, and city officials were collecting complaints from the owners of damaged cars. City Hall promised to cover all expenses, although Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev said anyone found guilty of causing the damage would have to reimburse the city.

The city prosecutor's office said 113 people were arrested Sunday, and 15 of them are accused of setting cars on fire and breaking windows.

"It is serious criminal offense punishable by eight years in prison," Deputy Interior Minister Vitaly Mozyakov said in televised remarks. "We will do everything to find as many participants of the disturbances as possible, and they all will be held criminally responsible."

Although many, including Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said they believed the violence was planned, both Mozyakov and a spokeswoman for the city prosecutor's office said they had no information that the riot was organized or that extremist groups were involved.

"We will check the identities of the detained individuals and their membership in extremist organizations," said prosecutor's office spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko. "As of now, we can't say that the riot was organized."

But Sergei Fomchenkov, one of the leaders of the National Bolshevik Party, known for its own controversial and violent escapades, said it had all the signs of an organized action.

"The fact that the rampage erupted and spread very rapidly indicates that it was organized," Fomchenkov said. "A dozen men with the means to set fire to cars and tools to smash windows are enough to trigger such a riot. And actions such as quickly setting fire to a car require specific knowledge."

The television footage from Manezh Square showed young men brandishing blazing thermite signal flares that could be used to torch cars, he said.

Fomchenkov said his party was not involved in Sunday's unrest and he doubted other radical political parties were involved either, because of the lack of political slogans. The fans mainly shouted, "Rossia, Rossia."

"It could be radical fans or their skinhead friends, who could have been urged on by the Russian secret services," he said. "I know for certain that the Federal Security Service has close ties to leaders of fan groups."

Fomchenkov lamented that the riot will have a negative impact on the activity of radical parties because it will allow the Kremlin to win public support for its law on extremism, which is now being pushed through the State Duma and will give the authorities more power to pounce upon the opposition.

Alexander Ivanov-Sukharevsky, the head of the Russia's most radical ultra-rightist group, the National People's Party, expressed the same concern.

"The series of recent racially and ethnically motivated attacks in Russia may not be a pattern of conspiracy by the Kremlin, but it uses them as a pretext to consolidate people around the authorities and definitely will use this riot to extend its influence in the public consciousness," he said.

But not only marginal political groups fear a possible crackdown after the riot; major opposition parties also expressed their worries.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called the Sunday rampage "a well-planned provocation," aimed at pushing the law on extremism through parliament.

The Kremlin bill, however, has all the support it needs already. It passed in its first reading last week with a vote of 271 to 141. The Communists unanimously voted against it.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a lawmaker from the Yabloko faction who also opposed the bill, said he believes the riot will be used to curb civil liberties.

"The restoration of order will be done the traditional Russian way -- by suppressing citizens' rights -- and not by revising the work of the law enforcers," he said Monday. "Everywhere in the world, the police monitor extremist groups through informers, while our policemen feebly ask people to share their video footage of the riot to help them identify the hooligans."

Mitrokhin, who witnessed the fans' outrage, said that when riot police officers arrived at the scene the hooligans dispersed immediately.

"If they had come half an hour earlier, there would have been no riot at all," he said. "And when I called on the police patrols that were hiding from the fans on the side streets to intervene, they told me it wasn't their task or that they had no order from their superiors."

Throughout the day, one political leader after another blamed the Moscow city government and police for failing to foresee the violence or respond to it adequately. Putin, however, made no public comments on the riot Monday.

Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Duma's international affairs committee, and presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky accused City Hall of failing to predict the violent behavior of drunken teenagers and permitting the free trade of alcohol near the screening site, Interfax said.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said the riot showed the ineffectiveness of Moscow police, Interfax reported.

The ROMIR polling agency interviewed 500 Muscovites on Monday and 40 percent of them, the largest share, also put the blame on city police. The rest of the blame was shared among city authorities (17 percent), the fans (15 percent) and even the Russian soccer team (2 percent), presumably for losing.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov flew to Moscow from St. Petersburg to meet Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin on Sunday night and he ordered an internal investigation into the police actions.

On Monday morning, Pronin sent in his resignation to Gryzlov but the minister refused to accept it, Interfax reported. Instead, Gryzlov accepted the resignation of Pronin's deputy, Major General Vasily Chemisov, who was the officer in charge of the city Sunday.

"I believe this man has assessed his actions himself," Gryzlov was quoted as saying. He said that actions of other police officers will be investigated and they will be punished accordingly.

The City Duma and the State Duma security committee will have meetings Tuesday to look at the reasons behind the riot. "The web sites of soccer fans are literally stuffed with information about similar actions being prepared in other Russian regions," said Yury Shchekochikhin, a member of the security committee, Interfax reported. "I believe we will have two or three similar riots in Russian country towns this summer."

Whether Moscow authorities continue the public screening of the World Cup's finals will be decided in the next two days, Shantsev told Interfax.

"It will not be an easy decision. If the next game is not transmitted, we will give this scum a chance to defeat us," he was quoted as saying.

The Russian soccer team plays Belgium on Friday.

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The Moscow Times, June 11, 2002

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