Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Russia deports Georgian citizens

`SMACKS OF RACISM, XENOPHOBIA' Mikhail Tyurkin, the head of the Russian migration service, said that all future work visas for Georgian nationals would be `eliminated '

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

Georgians arrive in Tbilisi aboard a Russian emergency plane yesterday. Russia deported about 200 Georgian nationals by airplane from Moscow on Friday amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the neighboring countries.

PHOTO: AFP

Russia deported 153 citizens of Georgia on Friday as a wave of punitive measures against Georgian migrants and businesses grew, prompting criticism that the government is engaged in an ethnically motivated campaign of harassment.

The deportations came at the end of a week of political and diplomatic conflict between Russia and Georgia that began with the arrests of four Russian military officers for espionage and that has shown little sign of easing despite the officers' release.

The police, who had already begun to shutter some businesses linked to Georgians, searched and closed still more on Friday, including two more casinos and two of Moscow's better-known Georgian restaurants, according to accounts of officials and news organizations.

At least some schools in Moscow received requests from the police to list students with Georgian names, presumably to help in identifying illegal immigrants, prompting a complaint from an education official, Lyubov Kezina.

And one of the country's most famous writers, Grigory Chkhartishvili, a Georgian native who writes under the pseudonym Boris Akunin, told a radio station that tax inspectors had questioned his publisher about his income from his hugely popular novels.

Yuri Dzhibladze, an ethnic Georgian and president of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights in Moscow, described the authorities' actions as an unjustified overreaction to political disputes with Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili.

"It smacks of racism and xenophobia," Dzhibladze said in a telephone interview.

Russian officials have cited legal or procedural violations as justifications for their actions, accusing the operators of casinos and restaurants of violating health or other regulatory standards and the deportees of breaking immigration laws.

"Everything that is taking place today is exclusively within the framework of the law," the prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika, said on Friday, Interfax reported.

Officials' remarks, however, have left little doubt that they have singled out Georgians for enforcement.

Mikhail Tyurkin, the head of the country's migration service, said on Thursday that all future work visas for Georgians would be "eliminated."

"Our analyses showed that today we do not need to attract Georgian citizens," he said.

In the wake of last week's arrests, which provoked an ominous war of words between the countries, Russia severed transportation links to Georgia, effective Tuesday, and has vowed to restrict postal service and money transfers.

The steps against Georgians in Russia have coincided with two new campaigns announced this week by President Vladimir Putin. On Wednesday, he proposed sweeping new restrictions on gambling. A day later, Putin called for new regulations of migrant workers, especially those in wholesale and retail markets, which he said were controlled by "semigangs, some of them ethnic."

Using some of the most strikingly nationalistic language of his presidency, Putin said markets should be regulated "with a view to protect the interests of Russian producers and population, the native Russian population," according to the Kremlin's transcript of his remarks.

It is not clear exactly how many Georgian citizens live in Russia, though some estimates run as high as a million. Like many citizens of former Soviet republics, they come to Russia to work, often temporarily, sending money home to support their families.

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