MOSCOW, July 9 (RIA Novosti) – A deadly street fight in a small town in central Russia has exposed smoldering ethnic tensions, with hundreds of locals shouting for resident Chechens to be evicted, and police sent in to quell the unrest.
According to a statement issued on Monday by the regional prosecutor’s office, a 16-year-old ethnic Chechen fatally stabbed a “local man” with a scalpel outside the Golden Barrel cafe in the early hours of Sunday in Pugachyov, estimated population 40,000.
The fight was apparently over a girl, a senior investigator told RIA Novosti.
The suspected killer was detained later Sunday, the same day that residents marched through the streets calling for all ethnic Chechens to be “evicted” from the town, the prosecutor’s statement said. A funeral service for the deceased local, a 20-year-old former paratrooper, also took place Sunday.
Russia fought two bloody civil wars in Chechnya between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, and many natives of the small republic fled to other parts of the country. It was not immediately clear how or when the Chechen community in Pugachyov came into existence. But migration throughout the former Soviet Union has been intense in the past two decades and interethnic tensions have flared up periodically across Russia, often involving groups from across the Caucasus region, where Chechnya is located, and ethnic Slavs, among others.
Last month, in an incident similar to that in Pugachyov, hundreds of residents, many of them presumably ethnic Slavs, marched in a “Day of Rage” protest through the provincial town of Udomlya, 350 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Moscow, after a brawl between groups of young people, some of whom were reportedly from the North Caucasus.
Sunday’s funeral for the stabbing victim in Pugachyov was reportedly followed by a mass brawl after hundreds of angry locals marched to a part of town inhabited by ethnic Chechens, according to regional news site Vzglyad-Info, which cited a member of the local city council, Denis Maletin, as saying police were unable to stop the fighting, but detained a number of people afterward. According to other media, however, police denied the fight had taken place, saying they managed to prevent it.
The protest continued Monday, with marchers calling on authorities to "shield" them from "those who have come from the Caucasus," the prosecutor’s statement said, adding that police were maintaining public order.
Russia's RBC news network said 600 people had joined Monday's march and aired a video of armored personnel carriers rolling through town, but police and other officials quickly pointed out the footage was old and not related to the ongoing tension.
Governor Valery Radayev of Saratov Region, where Pugachyov is located, warned residents on Monday not to resort to “mob rule” in respect to ethnic minorities, according to a statement posted on his administration’s website.
The head of the town administration, Stanislav Sidorov, tried to address the protesters but had to retreat when an empty bottle was hurled at him amid jeering from the crowd, Vzglyad-Info reported.
Meanwhile, hundreds of locals blocked a federal highway, the regional branch of the press and information ministry said. It later announced that traffic had been restored to normal, without saying how long the blockade had lasted.
The head of the regional police, Sergei Arenin, accompanied by Deputy Governor Denis Fadeyev and regional deputy prosecutor Timur Maslov, met with the protesters, with Arenin promising to look into their complaints about “representatives of the Chechen diaspora,” Vzglyad-Info reported. He also warned them against blocking highways and other illegal actions.
As he spoke, the report said, demonstrators began chanting: “Deport them!”
Updated to more prominently reflect denials of initial reports of armored personnel carriers and to clarify years of war in Chechnya, nature of interethnic tension in Russia and prosecutor's statement regarding Monday's events.