A pulp mill near Lake Baikal will go in full production, which has been suspended for 16 months due to ecological concerns, in late February, despite large-scale public protests, a spokesman for the mill said on Monday.
Almost a thousand protesters gathered on Monday in Baikalsk, the Irkutsk Region town centered around the controversial plant, to rally against the mill's reopening, which was earlier expected to take place on Monday.
Environmental protests broke out after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a resolution in mid-January, excluding the production of pulp, paper and cardboard from the list of operations banned in the Baikal natural territory, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Environmentalists decried Putin's move and are planning to appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev.
"Now, production of brown pulp sample consignments is underway. Full production will start in late February," the spokesman said.
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 men and forced the Soviet government to promise a halt to pulp production by 1993.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 delayed the 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.
In late December 2009, the Baikal mill started testing its new equipment.
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.
IRKUTSK, February 15 (RIA Novosti)