Troops launch bloody takeover of factory

* RUSSIAN CHAOS Violence as security forces break workers' siege of British-owned paper mill in St Petersburg
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The Independent Online

LOCAL RUSSIAN security men opened fire on workers occupying a paper and pulp factory, owned by a British-registered company, outside St Petersburg early yesterday, wounding two of them.

LOCAL RUSSIAN security men opened fire on workers occupying a paper and pulp factory, owned by a British-registered company, outside St Petersburg early yesterday, wounding two of them.

The security unit known as Taifun, which is part of the Justice Ministry, was trying to enforce a court order returning the factory, taken over and run by workers since 1998, to private control.

The events which followed were closer to the Russian Revolution of 1917 than anything seen in the country since the fall of Communism.

Workers and administrators at the plant say that 30 armed members of Taifun stormed the factory at 2am, beating guards placed there by the workers. They were then counter-attacked by a crowd of some 600 paper workers who had come from their homes in the town of Vyborg, about 100 miles west of St Petersburg.

The security men along with two bailiffs then took seven of the workers hostage and retreated to the factory canteen which they barricaded. The workers for their part took hostage Alexander Sabadash, a representative of Altsem, a company registered in Britain and Switzerland, which is reported by local news agencies to be owned by Russian entrepreneurs.

Irina Sitnikova, a locksmith at the Vyborg plant, gave The Independent a graphic description of the fighting over the control of the factory which erupted after the Taifun unit arrived.

"They came at 2am and the first people who met them at the plant were our workers who guard the building in shifts day and night," she said.

The workers, who had been raided by security men four times before, had arranged to alert each other about any attempt to end their occupation by having a diesel locomotive used at the mill sound its whistle. Ms Sitnikova says: "That's what we did this time. People started to come and a big crowd it was, about 600 people. The security men started to shoot when they saw a big angry crowd of workers approaching the building."

Ms Sitnikova and other workers first tried to get in the front of the plant, but were driven back by tear gas. She says: "We saw our guards lying on the floor beaten, all covered in blood."

Meanwhile the Taifun began to shoot from the second floor of the building. Finally the workers got close to them by using a cargo lift. At this point, she says, the security men aimed pistols and Kalashnikov submachine guns at them and shouted: "Get the hell out of here or we will shoot you."

Driving the workers back the Taifun then took hostages. Ms Sitnikova says that when they were finally released yesterday all had been badly beaten.

A state commission has now been set up to consider the future ownership of the plant. The workers challenge the legality of its original privatisation and want the plant returned to state ownership. They claim the price paid was "ridiculous" and that actually only 12 per cent of it had been paid.

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