Moscow hails round-up of criminals

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The Independent Online
COMMUNISTS, Caucasians and journalists are in an unusual alliance, questioning whether citizens' rights are being violated under the state of emergency which President Boris Yeltsin brought in last week after the hardline uprising against him. But most Russians are delighted that the Moscow commandant is using his powers not only to mop up militarily after the storming of the White House but also to round up the common criminals who had, for many months, been terrorising the capital.

'Bringing in this state of emergency is the best thing Yeltsin has done,' declared Ivan Kolesnikov, a Russian businessman who in the space of one month in the summer had his car stolen and his shop burgled. 'I would be happy if Yeltsin became a dictator like Pinochet for a year or two to make Russia safe and to give the economy a chance to grow.' An opinion poll commissioned for US News & World Report has shown that 90 per cent of participants welcomed emergency rule for the time being.

The state of emergency, set to continue until 18 October, involves a curfew from midnight to 5am and extra police patrols with the power to stop and search people at any time of the day or night. Anyone found without a Moscow residence permit is liable to be expelled from the city. According to Itar-Tass, 989 gangsters on the wanted list have been captured along with their hoards of guns and drugs. Commandant Alexander Kulikov told a news conference yesterday that in the past eight days there had been 126 crimes in Moscow, which he said was a very small figure for a city of 10 million people.

Critics, however, are concerned that innocent people may be getting caught in the police net as well. Yesterday several journalists used the meeting with the commandant to complain about being roughed up by police or to raise the cases of other people who had been abused. The commandant assured them: 'If the police behave crudely, never mind whether they are heroes or not, they will be punished.'

Among those feeling vulnerable are citizens of other Commonwealth republics, especially Armenians, Azeris and Georgians, who are usually here in large numbers selling produce at markets.

Rachel Denber, of Helsinki Watch, said she was 'very concerned' about the human rights situation after receiving reports of people from the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan being either beaten up or deported. 'This is an outrage, it is racism,' she said.