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Medvedev Intervenes in Rechnik Dispute

President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the Prosecutor General's Office to check whether the rights of Rechnik residents were violated when court marshals began demolishing the settlement two weeks ago, the Kremlin said Thursday.

"The president is informed about the situation with the Rechnik settlement," spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told Interfax.

City Hall has been pushing to raze Rechnik and several other cottage settlements on the banks of the Moscow River, arguing that residents lacked property rights for the land under their houses. The residents, most of whom inherited the plots issued to their parents for gardening purposes during the Soviet era, argue that municipal officials had been systemically blocking their attempts to register the land.

The demolition has become a major scandal in the city, with some residents evicted late at night in freezing weather.

Timakova said Medvedev demanded that prosecutors check whether the houses were demolished legally and whether the residents had the right to a "dacha amnesty." The government has allowed individuals to privatize land without property documents if they could prove that they had been tending it for at least 15 years.

The president also said it was "inadmissable to turn these sorts of issues into a kind of campaign," Timakova said.

But the situation has become just that, and Moscow residents are largely siding with the Rechnik homeowners.

The Levada Center released a survey late Wednesday showing that 49 percent of Muscovites support the Rechnik residents, while just 10 percent back the Moscow authorities and 22 percent were indifferent.

Oleg Mitvol, the outspoken prefect of the Northern Administrative District, has claimed that ultranationalists are threatening him for supporting the bulldozing of houses in the Rechnik settlement.

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio late Wednesday, Mitvol said Slavyansky Soyuz, an umbrella organization for nationalists, was threatening him over the demolition of homes in the neighboring Northwestern Administrative District.

“That is the group organizing fights with the police and which arranged the so-called defense of Rechnik,” Mitvol told the station.

In 2006, Mitvol led the charge to have the settlement demolished after finding that it was built illegally. He was a deputy head of the federal environmental watchdog at the time.

Earlier Wednesday, Mitvol told prosecutors to check the legality of 30 houses constructed in Sokol, a neighborhood of low-rise houses in his district that won a Soviet prize for urban planning.

Soon after bulldozers began razing houses in Rechnik on Jan. 21, Slavyansky Soyuz members settled in several buildings to help residents resist court marshals, who were carrying out the demolition, and riot police sent to keep order. The group also wrote a letter to Mitvol asking him “to forget about Rechnik” and neighboring communities.

Slavyansky Soyuz’s leader, Dmitry Dyomushkin, dismissed the allegations Thursday and said the group’s lawyers were preparing to sue him.

“Rechnik is not even in his district. It seems that Mitvol saw a big PR campaign there and decided to join it,” Dyomushkin told The Moscow Times.

The group decided to defend Rechnik after receiving calls saying it was being threatened by “criminals,” he said.

Police in the Northern Administrative District confirmed that they had registered the reported threats against Mitvol, Interfax reported Thursday.

Meanwhile, residents of Rechnik and other demolished communities nearby announced that they were seeking 100 billion rubles ($3.3 billion) in damages from Mayor Yury Luzhkov, his wife, Inteko president Yelena Baturina, and Baturina’s brother, Viktor Baturin.

Sergei Tsoi, a spokesman for Luzhkov, denounced the lawsuit as a “farce,” saying there were no “legal buildings in Rechnik,” Interfax reported.

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