Land dispute in Moscow sets dangerous precedent

MOSCOW, June 21 (RIA Novosti) - A dispute between city authorities and homeowners over land on the southern outskirts of Moscow could set a dangerous precedent for Muscovites, a member of the Moscow legislature said Wednesday.

Residents of Butovo, 5 km outside the capital's ring road, set up a tent camp Tuesday, and several dozen people intend to keep a vigil there day and night, resisting forcible attempts by the authorities, bulldozers, and riot police to remove them.

Local authorities are trying to evict the residents from their houses, which they plan to raze to make way for high-rise apartment blocks. But promises of compensation and new apartments have been rejected, and residents say they were notified of the plan too late, and that the new housing on offer cannot compensate for the houses and land plots currently in their possession.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a member of the Moscow City Duma, said conflicts could break out across the capital if the authorities persisted in their attempts to evict people, even if acting in line with a court ruling.

"This is a time bomb," Mitrokhin said, adding that the authorities were violating the property rights of Butovo residents.

But his fellow Duma member Vladimir Platonov said the authorities had acted in compliance with the law and called for court decisions to be respected.

"We are acting strictly in accordance with law," he said. "The court decision must be implemented."

A Moscow district court - many of which have a reputation of being friendly to the city's authorities - ruled earlier that the Butovo residents could be turfed off their property. Residents have told media outlets they own full rights to the land and have paid all taxes on it.

First Deputy Mayor Yury Roslyak was quoted by Kommersant daily Tuesday as saying the city had compensated the residents in full.

"The majority of residents agreed to take the compensation, and only a few people went to a court of law, which ruled that the houses must be cleared out," Roslyak said.

The standoff took a dramatic turn Monday, when the authorities forcibly moved a mother and her son into a one-room apartment, and made an attempt to demolish their wooden house. Local residents blocked a bulldozer from entering the territory.

The Prokofyev family was not given keys and documents authorizing their ownership of the new apartment. Butovo activists have filed suit with the Moscow City Court.

The Public Chamber, a new body set up to bridge the gap between the authorities and the public, has vowed support for Butovo.

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, a Public Chamber member responsible for control over law-enforcement and security bodies who along with other members of the chamber spent a sleepless night in the tent camp, promised to back the appeal against the Prokofyevs' eviction.

"She [Prokofyeva] was evicted to nowhere. We will support her, will defend the rights and interests of these people, and insist that the authorities start dialogue," Kucherena said.

Vladimir Lukin, the presidential envoy for human rights, said Wednesday the dispute could only be settled by dialogue between the protesters and the authorities. He also said the authorities must refrain from further action before a court ruling on the protesters' complaint. A new eviction attempt has reportedly been planned for June 26.

Lukin said Russia should learn to respect private property or "abolish it and return to good, old Soviet times."

Kommersant said activists in Butovo had written open letters to President Vladimir Putin and the European Court of Human Rights.

"Russian citizens who have land plots in their unrestricted possession have been stripped of ownership rights by a court decision... The court decision to demolish the houses is a blatant failure of justice in the interests of corrupt Moscow officials," the letters read.

City Hall, however, argues that people in Butovo only have ownership rights to their houses, not to the land, which belongs to the city.


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