Russian murder rate among world's worst

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - Russia's murder rate shot up nearly 50 per cent in the first half of the year, making it nearly as violent statistically as Lebanon and well ahead of the US or Iraq among the most homicidal nations, writes Andrew Higgins. According to figures released yesterday by the Interior Ministry, 14,800 Russians were murdered between January and June while 35,000 suffered grievous bodily harm.

Recent victims include the head of a St Petersburg bank slain on his doorstep, a well-known businessman shot dead in his car on Moscow's Simferopolskoye Chaussee on Sunday, two brothers gunned down at a street cafe near the Bolshoi and a man forced to hang himself from a Moscow overpass in broad daylight.

But Russia's Interior Minister, Viktor Yerin, insisted at a press conference yesterday that police were winning the fight against organised crime, held largely responsible for the surge in homicides: 'The war on the criminal community is being waged more resolutely.' He said 3,000 'mafia-like structures' operated in Russia but that more than 1,000 such gangs had been 'exposed' since the start of the year in Moscow and other cities.

He rejected suggestions that the Russian capital was beginning to resemble Al Capone's Chicago, when gangsters would sometimes spray bullets into crowded restaurants. Russian gangs, he said, tended to kill only each other. He cited the example of two shoot-outs on Moscow streets on Monday. 'The lives of innocent civilians were not in danger. These were typical settling of scores between criminal groups.'

If the next six months prove as violent as the first, Russia, with its population of 150 million, will have a murder rate of between 19 and 20 per 100,000 people for the year. This compares with rates of around 20 per 100,000 in Lebanon last year, 11.9 in Iraq, 8.05 in the United States and 0.79 in Britain.