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Environmental group says office raided over Baikal

Environmental group says office raided over Baikal

Police in Russia's Far East have raided the office of an environmental group that criticized the reopening of a paper mill on the shores of the world's largest freshwater lake.
Baikal Environmental Wave said Friday local investigators searched their office the previous day without a warrant and confiscated staff computers and documents.
Police in the nearby regional center of Irkutsk said in a statement that the search was organized to respond to "a private citizens' petition" claiming that the group uses counterfeit computer software. They denied that the raid was connected with its activities.
Lake Baikal, which contains more fresh water than all of America's Great Lakes combined, is home to some 1,500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The activists have said the mill threatens the lake's fragile ecosystem.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week decreed the reopening of the Baikal Paper and Pulp Mill, which employed more than 2,000 people in the town of Baikalsk and shut down due to pollution concerns in October 2008.
The raid came just hours after Baikalsk's mayor, the plant's management and workers defended the re-opening at a Moscow news conference. Mayor Valery Pintayev acknowledged that the mill cannot stand on the shores of Baikal forever, but said the town needs three to four years to come up with a comprehensive job plan.
Baikalsk, located 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) east of Moscow, has a total population of only 17,000 and the plant closure hit the local economy hard.
Mill managers said they've already installed new technology that would allow the plant to operate without dumping waste into the lake, but the equipment requires several years of testing.
Marina Rikhvanova, co-founder of Baikal Environmental Wave, told The Associated Press that she believed police wanted "to paralyze our acitivities."
She said during the raid police showed the activists the petition, but did not have authorization to seize servers and computers. She said the police told them the computers would be held for 45 days. The group said it would file an official complaint.
The organization's Web site has been offline since Thursday.
Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature issued a joint statement Friday demanding a probe into the raid. They said they have reasons to believe the search is connected with the group's professional activities.
Baikal Environmental Wave said it was preparing a rally in Irkutsk next month against the reopening.


Updated : 2021-04-19 02:11 GMT+08:00