110 detained, 3 charged with murder after mob violence in Russia

After days of violence between Russians and Chechens in a northern Russian town over a hundred people have been arrested and three charged with murder, a regional prosecutor's official said Monday.

Regional and local officials maintained that the situation in the town of Kondopoga, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of Moscow, was calm Monday. But Russian news reports said the town was tense and many residents were staying off the streets, AP reports.

Mobs of residents and right-wing nationalists rampaged through Kondopoga on Friday, setting fires, smashing windows and throwing stones. More violence broke out again Saturday after thousands of people rallied to demand that police expel Chechens and other ethnic minorities from Russia's North Caucasus region, or investigate them for criminal ties.

The persistent violence and calls for the expulsion of people from the Caucasus came after a group of Russian and Chechen men clashed at a restaurant on Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of at least two Russian men.

Pavel Ponomaryev, an official from the Karelian regional prosecutor's office, told The Associated Press that 109 people had been detained, and 25 faced misdemeanor charges for various acts. Three people have charged with murder in connection with the fight, he said.

ITAR-Tass on Sunday quoted Karelia's interior minister, Maj. Gen. Dmitry Mikhailov, as saying that Saturday night's rioters - mostly young men and teenage boys, many of them drunk - set a car on fire and attacked the restaurant, throwing stones and trying to take alcohol and cigarettes from a storeroom.

Meanwhile, Chechnya's prime minister blamed Kondopoga authorities for allowing the situation to get out of hand.

"The brawl has evolved into an ethnically motivated conflict with a clearly anti-Chechen and anti-Caucasus bias," Ramzan Kadyrov said in a blunt statement posted on the Web site Chechen.ru. "The unrest is continuing against a backdrop of massive abuses of constitutional rights and looting of retail outlets."

"If the Kondopoga police had been more efficient in curtailing serious crimes, including massive fights, the current crisis would not have erupted, while the nationalists would not have scored new points in their campaign," he was quoted as saying.

Russia has seen a marked rise in xenophobia and racism in recent years, with a series of attacks on foreigners, Jews and dark-skinned migrants from the impoverished Caucasus region and ex-Soviet Central Asia. Rights groups say authorities do little or nothing to combat hate crimes, often choosing to prosecute flagrant hate crimes against minorities as simple hooliganism.

Following terrorist attacks by militants linked to separatist rebels in Chechnya, Chechens and members of other ethnic groups from the North Caucasus have become particularly vulnerable to persecution and hate crimes.