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    Russian official dismissed to clear way for land sales - paper

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    MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - An outspoken Russian environmental official was dismissed to clear the way for Moscow authorities to sell lucrative land plots near the capital, a popular daily reported on Tuesday.

    A source in the Natural Resources Ministry told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Oleg Mitvol could hamper the Moscow government's efforts to change the special status of some 1,000 ha (2,500 acres) of land, currently barred from being sold over its historical, cultural or other importance, amid an acute demand for plots for development.

    Removed two months ago, Mitvol said on Monday he had filed an appeal against his dismissal in a Moscow court. He is continuing to work as a deputy head of Russia's environmental regulator.

    Demand for land plots near Moscow - prices for which have ranged from $30,000 to $80,000 per 100 sq m - is soaring, and almost all the prime real estate just outside the capital has been sold, the paper said.

    The only state body that can block the change of land status is the Natural Resources Ministry and its environmental regulator, Rosprirodnadzor, an official cited by the daily said.

    "Everything will go ahead with the tacit consent of the ministry," the source told the paper, adding that Mitvol, who had a history of disputes with authorities, could be a problem.

    Mitvol, known for high-profile campaigns against oil companies, came to the public eye in 2005.

    He sparked a scandal by saying the country estates of pop diva Alla Pugachyova and then electricity monopoly chief Anatoly Chubais should be demolished because they had been built without planning permission in water-protection zones.

    The paper said Moscow Region authorities were not available for comment, but the federal environmental regulator said agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor was only considering changing the status of some arable land to allow it to be developed.

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