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Luzhkov Unrepentant on Decision to Bulldoze Mansions

An unrepentant Mayor Yury Luzhkov insisted in an interview published Thursday that the bulldozing of the Rechnik neighborhood would continue and promised the destruction of a nearby $100 million residential complex.

"We have said for years now that building houses here is forbidden. All court orders to raze this illegal construction must be and will be carried out whether you like it or not," Luzhkov told Moskovsky Komsomolets.

The decision to evict residents during the night last week and to resume bulldozing this week despite midwinter temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius has triggered a public outcry. Most opposition parties and human rights activists have joined forces in supporting the residents.

Desperate homeowners have threatened to commit suicide and vowed to apply for asylum at the U.S. and German embassies. A German Embassy spokesman explained that asylum applications could only be made in the country of destination.

But United Russia has defended the action as a measure against corruption.

Luzhkov, who is also a senior party member, said he would not take public opinion into account because the law was on his side.

Excavators on Thursday continued the destruction work in Rechnik, bringing the number of razed homes to 12. Court marshals spokesman Igor Kostyshin said three buildings were razed Thursday and three more would be destroyed Friday. "It all depends on the machines and the buildings' steadfastness," he told Interfax.

Konstantin Baranov, deputy prefect of the city's Western Administrative District, said homeowners would have to foot the bill for the razing. "If city funds are spent to carry out court orders to destroy buildings, the defendants will have to compensate for that," he told reporters, Interfax reported. Those costs can reach up to 2 million rubles ($66,000) per house, news reports said.

Rechnik was formed in Soviet days when citizens were given gardening plots. The city says owners acted illegally when they built houses on those plots and has pointed to court decisions backing its case. But the owners have secured numerous court decisions in their favor, too, and are demanding a general amnesty, a common practice to bring existing buildings into line with property law.

Luzhkov said in the interview that the Fantasy Island residential complex would face destruction next because the grounds that it was built on are dedicated for sports facilities, not apartments for the wealthy.

He promised that City Hall would deal with the complex after Rechnik. "This will be a different case but with a similar ending," he said.

Luzhkov accused the local prefecture of allowing the construction in violation of City Hall's decisions. "They simply overlooked this issue," he said.

Completed in 2004, Fantasy Island, or Ostrov Fantazy, consists of more than 250 apartments of up to 480 square meters each that rent out for up to $20,000 per month.

The biggest apartments have been sold for as much as $7 million, thus ranking them among the world's most expensive condominiums, RIA-Novosti reported.

The complex was developed by businessmen Sergei Grishchenko and Valery Shituyev, Forbes Russian edition reported on its web site Thursday.

Grishchenko is currently in detention awaiting trial in connected with the bankruptcy of the Kaliningrad-based airline KD Avia.

Fantasy Island management has said in the past that the development is fully legal and transparent. Calls to the phone number given on its web site, Ostroff.ru, went unanswered Thursday.

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