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Crimean ethnic tensions set to escalate
Journal Staff Report

KIEV, Sept. 11 – Ethnic tensions in Crimea may escalate within days, now that a Russian group has apparently refused to dismantle its marketplace located at a sacred Muslim area by an earlier agreed deadline, an official said Monday.

The failure to remove the marketplace, owned by an ethnic Russian, from a Muslim cemetery in Bakhchisaray has last month led to clashes between hundreds of ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars.

“As of today, the marketplace has not been removed, traders keep working,” Henadiy Moskal, President Viktor Yushchenko’s representative in Crimea, Ukraine’s autonomous republic, said Monday.

Four people were injured in the clashes early last month after the Crimean Tatars had tried to force the removal of the marketplace from an ancient Muslim cemetery.

At one point, the clashes involved hundreds of protesters from both sides forcing the authorities to send riot police troops that had fired shot in the air to stop the hostility.

The government is concerned about the possible escalation of tensions in Crimea, an ethnically diverse region dominated by ethnic Russians, and has been intervening to ease hostilities.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych met with local leaders in an attempt to diffuse the tensions, and backed a plan to remove the marketplace by Sept. 11 deadline. The failure to do so underscores the challenges that the central government faces while dealing with the problem.

Now, the hostilities may escalate again as the Crimean Tatars have already pledged to launch a campaign to “clean up” the marketplace from the area on Wednesday, according to Moskal.

“This may provoke the situation,” Moskal said in a statement.

The owner of the marketplace has apparently demanded compensation of up to UAH1.5 million in return for the dismantling of the facilities, Moskal said. This has de-facto postponed the removal, he said.

The failure to remove the marketplace comes despite an alleged support for the plan from local authorities, such as Crimean Parliament Speaker Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Crimean Prime Minister Viktor Plakida.

Hrytsenko is the leader of a party that has so far been loyal to Yanukovych.

A Crimean lawmaker, Oleh Rodivilov, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Russian Bloc and a member of a party loyal for Yanukovych, apparently led the attack on Crimean Tatars in early August, which had triggered the massive street fight, according to a spokeswoman of Medzhlis, a Crimean Tatar political body.

Mustafa Dzhamiliov, the leader of the Medzhlis, said the clash may have been politically motivated and provoked to destabilize the situation in the region. But he fell short of naming the parties that may have been responsible. (tl/ez)




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