September 26, 2006

Signs of upcoming revolution in Russia?


Dozens of people stripped of their savings by a fraudulent construction firm went on a hunger strike Monday in an unfinished Garden Ring building.

The hunger strike coincided with a protest that drew 400 to 500 people to the White House. The protest lasted about an hour and ended without incident.




Those at the hunger strike and protest are demanding the federal government compensate them with finished apartments -- which they assumed they were getting when they paid Sotsialnaya Initsiativa for homes that were never built or sold to multiple buyers.

Nikolai Karasyov, former head of Sotsialnaya Initsiativa, was arrested and charged with large-scale fraud in January.

Scores of protests have broken out in Moscow and the surrounding region since summer 2005, when news of the fraud surfaced.

Monday's demonstrations in Moscow were accompanied by similar protests in Voronezh, Novosibirsk, Orenburg and Belgorod. More than 50,000 families nationwide are believed to have been cheated out of apartments.

The hunger strike at an unfinished women's center on the Garden Ring, near the intersection with Tsvetnoi Bulvar, included many who had traveled from Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk and various towns in the Moscow region. Demonstrators huddled on mats on the second floor of the building. They were armed with bottled water and a television set and said they had brought portable toilets.

Cheering on those inside the women's center was a crowd of 150 to 200 protesters outside the building. The protesters, who had trekked to the center from the White House demonstration, touted banners, chanted and applauded. Police blocked their entrance to the center.

Actually, police (OMON) tried to break up the rally but the deceived people showed a strong resistance and police had just to block tham road to the White House.

Construction of the women's center had been paid for by a group of small and medium-size businesses. In a deal with city authorities, the group agreed to build the center in exchange for the right to build their own office building next door to the women's center.

Sotsialnaya Initsiativa had been hired by the group to build the whole project -- the office building and the women's center -- but the construction firm ran out of cash last year.

The group had paid Sotsialnaya Initsiativa $10 million to build the whole project. It is unclear how much more the project was expected to cost.

For now, the group's ownership of the unfinished center and office building is under dispute.

The group invited the hunger strike organizers to hold their demonstration at the construction site.

Those involved in the hunger strike showed up at the construction site early in the morning Monday, fearing police interference. Police had illegally blocked the entrance to the site, which is guarded by a security firm hired by the business group.

61 people had declared their intent to go on the hunger strike in a letter they planned to send to President Vladimir Putin's administration. An estimated 40 demonstrators were seen at the hunger strike.

The group of protesters rallying outside the center was eventually dispersed by police, who threatened to detain them if they did not leave.


Source: Russian massmedia, The Moscow Times

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