Moscow Police Detain Georgian Activists

By MARIA DANILOVA
The Associated Press
Saturday, October 7, 2006; 9:25 AM

MOSCOW -- More than a dozen activists who rallied in support of Georgia outside the country's embassy and accosted counter-protesters with taunts and eggs were arrested on Saturday.

Russia and its ex-Soviet republic neighbor have been locked in a bitter dispute since the arrests of four Russian officers by Georgia last week on charges of spying. Despite their release, Moscow has imposed a range of sanctions on Tbilisi and tightened controls on Georgians living in Russia.

The activists had gathered near the Georgian Embassy in central Moscow in response to a protest organized by supporters of the Russian government. The pro-Georgian activists were rounded up almost as soon as they approached the embassy and shouted "Georgia we are with you." They also shouted "fascists" at the pro-government activists and threw eggs at them.

The anti-Georgian protest was authorized by the authorities; the pro-Georgian rally was not.

President Vladimir Putin has blamed the conflict on Georgia and spurned Western calls to lift the sanctions, saying Georgian conduct was "aimed at escalating tension."

In addition to the sanctions, Russian authorities have also raided a number of Georgian-owned firms and closed down several popular restaurants in Moscow. Russian media reported that similar raids have been launched in several Russian provinces.

Moscow police have also asked schools to provide lists of children with Georgian last names in order to detect illegal migrants, education officials said. On Friday, 132 Georgians were deported after being detained as alleged illegal migrants.

In addition, Georgians living in Moscow have complained of illegal detentions and harassment by police. Russian authorities have cast their actions as a campaign to curb illegal migration and shady business practices.

Critics and prominent culture figures have denounced the moves as xenophobic and unfair. Award-winning author Grigory Tchkhartishvili, who writes under the pen name Boris Akunin, has called the raids "ethnic cleansing." Tchkhartishvili said his publisher had been questioned by tax authorities over his finances.


© 2006 The Associated Press