Protesters beaten as anger grows at Russian car import tax

A wave of protests over raised duties on imported cars is sweeping across Russia in the first sign of mass discontent with Kremlin measures to tackle the impact of the global financial crisis.

Riot police in Vladivostok broke up a demonstration against the tariffs yesterday, beating some of the 500-odd protesters. Vladimir Sayapin, a photographer who was arrested, said police special forces had attacked him. "They beat us all - those who resisted and those who did not ... the floor was sprinkled with blood," he told AFP. About 100 people were arrested.

The severity used to silence the demonstration highlighted Kremlin nervousness that the protests could turn into a nationwide campaign of dissent, with dissatisfaction growing over rocketing unemployment figures and high inflation.

Many Russians are already upset that controversial oligarchs have received billions of dollars in rescue packages for their businesses, while little cash seems to have trickled down.

Russia's economy has been hard hit by tumbling commodity prices but the Kremlin has sought to play down the crisis, saying its large currency reserves would help it weather the storm. However, earlier yesterday the deputy prime minister, Alexander Zhukov, admitted that the number of people out of work had risen by 70,000 between 10 and 16 December alone. More than 200,000 people had been sent home on unpaid leave or reduced pay in the same period, he said.

Measures to protect Russia's ailing motor industry by increasing duties on imported cars were announced earlier this month. The prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said on Saturday that the raised tariffs, to be introduced in January, were vital to save jobs in the industry, which makes models such as the Lada and Volga. One of his deputies dismissed the protesters as "provocative rogues".

Such comments are unlikely to dissuade the campaigners. A gathering a week ago in Vladivostok drew 3,000 people, many more than Russia's embattled liberal opposition can muster.

"This is turning into a mass action across the country and we will keep on going until the government cancels its plans," said Sergei Kanayev, head of the Moscow office of the Russian Federation of Car Owners.

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Protesters beaten as anger grows at Russian car import tax

This article was first published on at 00.01 GMT on Monday 22 December 2008. It appeared in the Guardian on Monday 22 December 2008 on p20 of the International section. It was last updated at 00.04 GMT on Monday 22 December 2008.

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