December 12, 2010 / 5:53 PM / 9 years ago

Russian Church urges steps to ease Moscow ethnic tensions

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church said on Sunday relations between native Muscovites and migrants to the city had become dangerously hostile and called for immediate action to prevent soccer-related violence becoming “ethnic war”.

On Saturday, 7,000 young men protested in Moscow in memory of a Spartak Moscow fan who was believed to have been shot dead in a fight by someone from Russia’s Caucasus region and some of them turned on passers by who did not appear Slavic.

Thirty two people ended up in hospital.

The clash, which also involved fighting between police and protesters, came less than two weeks after Russia won the right to host the 2018 soccer World Cup. Critics of the decision cited racist attacks by local fans as a reason to play elsewhere.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who heads the department for relations with society, urged the authorities, migrant communities and the indigenous population to take “very, very immediate steps” to prevent a serious conflict.

“It’s imperative that judicial officials react as harshly as possible to all evidence of ethnic crimes and boorish behaviour by individual members of diasporas towards the native population,” he told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

“It is important to do everything possible to prevent extremist groups connected to the native population using the situation to put the country on the verge of an ethnic war in the city.”

While small-scale political and human rights protests are relatively common in Moscow, Saturday’s violent clash, which followed other protests in the fan’s memory, was highly unusual.

President Dmitry Medvedev told Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev on Sunday to take “all necessary measures to ensure public order,” the Kremlin’s press service said in a statement.

Police have arrested several people, believed to be from the Caucasus, for the fan’s murder and detained 66 people following Saturday’s violence.

Moscow has become a focal point for racist violence in recent years, given its combustible mix of disenchanted ethnic Russian youth and labour migrants from the Russian Caucasus and impoverished former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Police recorded 26 racially motivated murders in Russia last year.

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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