Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 19:50 UK

Russia gang 'faces murder charge'

By Steven Eke
Russian affairs analyst, BBC News

Skinhead - file photo
Some skinheads have violently racist beliefs

Russian prosecutors say they are ready to charge a group of skinhead youths with more than 20 racially motivated murders and 12 attempted murders.

Prosecutors say the nine accused, all aged 17 to 22, belonged to an illegal far-right group which sought out non-slavic looking people to attack.

The alleged victims were guest workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The group was led by two students and had one female member, who is accused of videoing the attacks.

One of the group's leaders claimed during questioning to have carried out nearly 40 racially motivated murders.

Officials say the group - known as the Ryno Gang after one of its leaders - was one of the most aggressively racist they have encountered.

Nazi-style insignia

Russia has been criticised by human-rights groups for failing to act to curb the scourge of racially motivated murders in recent years.

The Russian government estimates there are 60,000 members of skinhead groups in the country.

Many of them have close-shaven heads, wear Nazi-style insignia and openly espouse violently racist beliefs.

Guest workers from Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan, are their most frequent victims.

The Moscow Human Rights Bureau says there have been 69 racist murders in Russia so far this year.

Prosecutors have traditionally been reluctant to ascribe racial motivation to murders of members of ethnic minorities, often reducing charges to the much less serious one of "hooliganism".

The Russian police have been implicated in abusing ethnic minorities, and Russian society itself remains suspicious of foreigners, especially those with dark skins.

Russia is now one of the most significant world centres of far right, skinhead racist organisations.

Using the internet, they have established close links with extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, in other countries, especially the US, Germany and Serbia.

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