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Starikov, a Leading Liberal, Is Beaten

A series of attacks on opposition politicians — including the beating of Union of Right Forces member Ivan Starikov on Friday — brought a warning from Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov over the weekend that he would form an armed militia if the attacks continued.

Two unknown assailants attacked Starikov, who headed the short-lived State Duma campaign of jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as he walked to his house on Ulitsa Udaltsova in southwestern Moscow sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. Friday.

Starikov, who was returning from hockey practice, said he was struck from behind and fell to the ground. He was then kicked repeatedly by two assailants, whom he described as young men in black knit caps.

He noted that he had been holding his car keys, wallet and a mobile phone during the attack, but that none was taken.

Police spokesman Kirill Sharov confirmed that the attack had taken place and was under investigation. He said Starikov "was not seriously hurt," and that police had no suspects or evidence that the attack was politically motivated.

Starikov, however, believes his role as the head of Khodorkovsky's brief campaign for a single-mandate Duma seat in Moscow's Universitetsky district may have motivated the attack, his spokesman, Denis Terekov, said.

Alternatively, the attack may have been motivated by Starikov's opposition to a campaign to raze dachas on a Moscow region reservoir by Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Federal Service for the Inspection of Natural Resources Use, Terekov said.

On Saturday, Zyuganov angrily decried what he called a campaign of "attacks on Communists and their supporters."

"Attacks on our organization's headquarters and instances of physical violence against Communist Party activists have been carried out in 11 regions over three months," Zyuganov said in a speech to the 11th Communist Party congress.

"If this sort of thing continues, we are within our rights to organize troops for our defense. Believe me, there are more than a few Communists who know the art of hand-to-hand fighting, and not only hand-to-hand," he said.

Zyuganov said some of the attacks had been the work of Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group that has been implicated in incidences of violence since it was formed in February.

"Today, the threat of Nashism is more real than ever," Zyuganov said Saturday, adopting a term Nashi's critics use to imply that the group has fascist intentions. "Provocations and even the murder of our comrades is not news to us."

Nashi employs its own anti-fascist rhetoric against its self-described opponents, including opposition youth groups, liberal politicians and oligarchs. Observers say the group was conceived by deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov as a way to avert the threat of an Orange Revolution in Russia.

Just weeks after the group's founding, Nashi members beat Ilya Yashin, head of the liberal Yabloko Youth group, after he infiltrated a Nashi training conference.

On Aug. 30, several dozen masked men attacked a group of National Bolshevik Party activists with gas pistols and baseball bats after a meeting of leftist youth groups at a Communist Party branch office in Moscow. Several of the attackers were wearing T-shirts with Nashi emblems.

Zyuganov, Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin and National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov blamed Nashi for the attack at the time, calling it "the first skirmishes in a civil war."

The leftist group Red Youth Vanguard, or AKM, reported two incidents of violence in recent days. Alexei Matroskin, a Moscow AKM organizer, was attacked outside his home by two unknown assailants on Friday morning, and 15 Nashi members attacked three AKM members in the town of Penza on Thursday, AKM said in a statement.

Nashi has repeatedly denied being involved in any attacks.

Meanwhile, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov and Green Party of Russia head Alexei Yablokov issued a joint statement Friday expressing their "extreme concern" over the attack against Starikov, which they said stemmed from the same source as the August attack on the National Bolsheviks.

"Certain circles close to the authorities have taken the course of purely fascistic methods of struggle with the democratic opposition on both the left and the right, which is quickly leading to the creation of actual storm troops," the statement said.

The liberal Union of Right Forces party called for "a swift, competent investigation by Moscow's law enforcement authorities."

"We very much want that to happen, but to tell you the truth, we're not at all counting on it," Terekov said. "We know it from experience. When people get beaten here, no one pays any attention.

"It's not easy to conduct a sane, civilized political struggle in today's Russia," he said.


(BBJ 31.x.05)

 
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