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China protests Russia's shutdown of huge Moscow market

25.07.2009 China protests Russia's shutdown of huge Moscow market Azerbaijani trader at a Moscow market

Russia's closure of its biggest outdoor market has led to a row with China. Thousands of stall owners, including many Chinese, have had their wares confiscated, prompting a high-level protest from Beijing.

 

Police cited health and fire safety violations in shutting down the 740-acre (nearly 300-hectare) bazaar in northeast Moscow. Over 100,000 traders were locked out of their stalls and thrown out of work overnight.

Since then, officials have accused the market of being a major hub for smuggling activities and have seized the merchants' wares, demanding documents to prove that they were legally imported.

Many of the traders at the Cherkizovsky market are migrants. Some are from the Caucasus region to Russia's south and others come from the former Soviet republics. But a significant number are Chinese, and it was on their behalf that Beijing sent a special delegation headed by Deputy Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng to Moscow this week to protest Russia's actions.

"In light of the development of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, China urges the Russian side to take a historical perspective, legally resolve the situation and protect Chinese merchants' legal rights," Gao said in a statement on Friday.

Widespread criticism in the Chinese media had described the Russian treatment of the migrant workers as unfair and illegal.

Counterfeit heaven?

The Cherkizovsky market is almost a city within a city. It houses cafes, apartments, a synagogue and a dental practice. Its sprawling lanes are home to retailers, wholesalers and vendors pushing everything from toys, to leather wares to jeans made in China.

The police raid on June 29 followed complaints by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Cherkizovsky had become a major focus of smuggling and contraband. He said police had seized over 1.4 billion euros ($2 billion) in contraband in a raid last fall.

Russia’s industry ministry estimates that fake designer clothing and accessories accounted for almost half of the market’s sales volume in 2008.

Moscow Mayor Yury LuzhkovBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Moscow Mayor Luzhkov says it's not Russia's job to help Chinese traders

Russia's Federal Migration Service says some 3,000 foreign workers traded at the market, but NGOs claim that in total as many as 100,000 traders were left jobless after the police action.

Russia's Vedemosti newspaper reported that some 80,000 Chinese lost their jobs after the Cherkizovsky closure.

But authorities have said the migrant merchants will not be getting help from the Russian government.

"It's not our job to find new trading areas for our Chinese friends," Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was quoted as saying. It is unlikely that the comment sat well with the Beijing delegation that met with representatives from the Russian investigation committee and the foreign ministry on Friday.

"The investigation committee informed the Chinese delegation about the criminal probe involving smuggling and the production of goods, in violation of health and security regulations," Moscow investigators told reporters.

Beijing calls for rights protection

According the Russian committee, the Beijing delegation has expressed support for the anti-smuggling investigation and for Russia’s efforts at fighting contraband and semi-legal import schemes.

Chinese minister Gao Hucheng reprimanded Chinese traders for the way they operated in Russia and said they must change their conduct and comply with Russian customs laws. But China called on the Russian authorities to ensure the personal safety of the traders and to protect their legal rights.

The Cherkizovsky market has become notorious for its racist attacks against immigrants from Asia and the Caucasus, who have increasingly been victims of mounting nationalism and ethnic intolerance in Russia.

nw/ai/Reuters/RIA
Editor: Kyle James