Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Neighbors' spat draws in special forces in Russia

THE GUARDIAN , LZI, RUSSIA

One person died and three others were critically injured after special forces soldiers stormed a Russian village when a dispute between two brothers spiralled out of control.

The action in Lzi, in a remote rural area an hour outside St Petersburg, began with an argument between Anatoli Rudnitski and his brother Oleg, whose houses are next door to each other.

Anatoli's wife Ludmila claimed Oleg's dog had been fouling their garden, and the coming and going of their guests disturbed their peace.

Anatoli erected a fence, so Oleg apparently threatened to "chop him to pieces."

Oleg's wife, Galina, then claimed Anatoli's son Eduard had stolen her daughter Alena's mobile phone.

Some of Alena's friends then went over to Eduard's house and took his phone and a tape player.

Eduard retaliated by smashing up the car owned by Alena's boyfriend, Stas.

So Stas summoned eight friends from nearby St Petersburg, who arrived in the village carrying automatic weapons.

They confiscated the mobile phones of everyone they came across, and beat Eduard to within "an inch of his life. He was like a piece of meat when I saw him, so bloody," said Ludmila.

Initially, police refused to answer repeated calls for help.

Three officers who finally went to the village called for back-up and then arrested two of the "bandits" who were attempting to hide under the bed at Ludmila's house.

The rest were chased to the river where they were met by the massed ranks of police and security service officers who had by then arrived.

Who fired first is not clear but a fierce gun battle then broke out.

In the crossfire, a local man Nikolai Nikiforov, was shot in the head, police said. Eduard and two others were taken to hospital, Stas and his friends to jail.

Ludmila is afraid more of Stas's friends may come back. For most of Lzi's residents the night of violence is part of life in unruly, discarded rural Russia.

Andrei, a thick-set former army officer, who said he worked in "business protection," said the shooting lasted all night.

He said: "Those eight guys were not serious people. Alcohol. A crowd. Guns. You're bound to frighten a grandmother with that. There's no insurance in this country against anything."

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