MOSCOW – More than 20 people including six police officers were injured in ethnic riots in a southern Moscow suburb that began Sunday and continued overnight, authorities said.
Thousands of young people took to the streets in the southern Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo on Sunday demanding the eviction of migrant workers from the Northern Caucuses and outside Russia. The protests came in the wake of the killing last week of a 25-year-old local resident, Yegor Shcherbakov, reportedly by an attacker with an appearance of Caucasus or Central Asian origin.
The angry Moscow mob overturned cars, broke windows in street kiosks and tried to break into a local market run by migrants. The protesters chanted “Russia for Russians, Moscow for Muscovites” and threw stones at riot police who arrived at the scene.
“On Sunday, extremist persons decided to take advantage of the situation. … Many of them were drunk,” Anatoly Yakunin, a senior Moscow police official said during a urgent meeting at the Police Headquarters. “They were young people – unfortunately, women among them, too. They began to cross the legal line in actions bordering on mass disorders.”
Yakunin said 380 people were arrested overnight.
Shcherbakov was stabbed with a knife Thursday and died a short time later near his home after reportedly trying to protect his girlfriend from an attacker of “non-Russian” appearance.
“This non-Russian man took out a knife and stabbed him in the heart,” Shcherbakov’s girlfriend, whose name was not disclosed, said in an interview on NTV, a television network. “We called the ambulance, but we couldn’t save him, and he died on my knees.”
The alleged attacker’s face was caught by a camera over the entrance of Scherbakov’s residential house. Police were conducting an investigation and searching for the attacker.
Television reports Sunday showed groups of young men randomly attacking and beating up people of non-Russian appearance in the streets of Biryulyovo. Thousands of riot police in full riot gear and armed with clubs were patrolling the streets overnight after the protests subsided.
Early Monday, police raided a vegetable market protesters had tried to storm overnight, detaining about 1,200 workers and traders, RIA Novosti reported.
People also brought flowers and lit candles Monday morning at the spot where Shcherbakov was killed.
The riots were the largest in Moscow driven by ethnic conflict since Dec. 11, 2010, when more than 5,000 people rioted in Manezhnaya Square in front of the Kremlin, angered by the death of a soccer fan killed by a man from the Northern Caucasus.
The first large-scale anti-immigrant riots happened in 2006 in the northern Russian town of Kondopoga, where one man was killed and dozens injured. The violence forced hundreds of immigrants to flee the town in fear of violence.
Since then, conflicts fueled by ethnic discrimination have occasionally flared up across Russia.
In Moscow alone, more than 2 million migrants work in the municipal, trade and construction sectors.
“The state does very little to socialize these migrant groups and help them adjust properly in cities and towns across Russia,” Alexander Cherkasov, board member of the Memorial Society, a Moscow-based rights group, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Thus, markets where they work often turn into migrant enclaves, which the authorities fail to control properly. As a result, they appear incapable to prevent local incidents from deteriorating into mass riots like the one in Biryulyovo, richly colored with ethnic intolerance.”
Moscow Mayor Sergey S. Sobyanin ordered a thorough investigation into the death of the young man and the subsequent riots, the Interfax news agency reported.