Russian gangsters hijack army tank

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (Reuter) - Russian gangsters hijacked a modern army tank to use in a battle with Muslim market traders in the Urals industrial city of Nizhny Tagil, the Postfactum news agency reported yesterday.

One of the traders was killed and two seriously wounded during bloody street fighting, Interior Ministry officials said.

Fighting broke out after the street traders, mainly Muslim Ingushis from the Caucasus region in southern Russia, decided they would no longer hand over their profits to the mafia. About 50 of them swept into town on Thursday in a 10-car convoy to settle their scores with the gangsters, brandishing guns and grenades.

Some of the gangsters escaped from the ensuing shoot-out and broke into a nearby army tank training ground, overpowering security guards and seizing a tank. Nizhny Tagil's Uralvagonzavod factory is the world's biggest producer of tanks and railway carriages, turning out an average of 1,500 tanks a year.

The T-90 tank was being fine- tuned by a mechanic before being handed over for army use. No soldiers were on board. Gangsters forced the mechanic to surrender by threatening him with a sawn-off shotgun and hand grenades, Postfactum said. Gang bosses then demanded that the city be 'purged' of all its dark-skinned Caucasian residents.

Police and Interior Ministry troops finally managed to put a stop to the fighting and 'smoke out' the gangsters from their tank. Elite Omon riot police, Interior Ministry troops, helicopters and road blocks were still being used to keep the peace yesterday, when the mayor, Nikolai Didenko, appealed on local television for residents to keep the peace.

Vasily Kuptsov, deputy head of Moscow's police investigation department, this week blamed criminals from the Caucasus for much of a huge recent rise in violent crime, and demanded a special visa system in Russia for visitors from other former Soviet states. He said there were few alternatives: police have neither the money nor the equipment to deal with the sharp rise in violent crime.

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