Protesters demanded the premier's resignation at a weekend rally in Eastern Siberia ahead of the official reopening on Monday of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill after 14 months of inactivity, a Russian newspaper reported.
On January 13, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a resolution excluding the production of pulp, paper and cardboard from the list of operations banned in the Baikal nature reserve. Environmentalists decried the move and are planning to appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev.
Almost a thousand protesters gathered in Baikalsk, the Irkutsk Region town centered around the controversial plant, to rally against the mill's reopening, respected business daily Kommersant said. Local environmentalists and politicians shouted "Putin Get Fired!" but no menace was directed at Medvedev.
"The fact that Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] has so far kept silent, gives us hope. We should invite him to set up and chair a council on Baikal preservation," the paper quoted Anton Romanov, a local legislator, as saying.
A public campaign to close or convert the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill, built in 1966 on the shores of the world's largest freshwater lake, became one of the symbols of Glasnost, the "openness" policy proclaimed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.
It involved the nation's leading statesmen and literary figures and forced the Soviet government to promise a halt to pulp production by 1993.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 delayed the implementation of that decision, and it was only in October 2008 that the plant switched over to a closed water cycle, preventing the discharge of waste into the lake, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the new regime proved unprofitable and the plant was forced to shut down.
In late December 2009, the Baikal mill started testing its equipment, and is expected to go in full production in early 2010.
Last week, parliament members from Russia's Siberian republic of Buryatia sent Putin a letter asking him to rescind his decision to reopen the mill.
The country's authorities and the opposition have been less relaxed over provincial protests after a massive anti-government demonstration was recently staged in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad against transport tax and utility hikes.
MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti)