Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 17:43 UK

Russian police readied for unrest

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Russian police take a robust line
Russian police are set to get even tougher on protests

Russia's paramilitary police units are being reorganised to guard against "extremism" amid fears of growing social unrest, an official says.

A senior interior ministry official told the BBC the definition includes protests provoked by the credit crunch.

The official said a new federal department was being set up to expand the remit of existing squads tackling serious crime nationwide.

They will still answer to the interior ministry, like gendarmeries elsewhere.

Confirmation came as the International Monetary Fund forecast that the Russian economy would shrink by 6% this year.

The projected decline follows 10 straight years of rapid growth.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says the creation of the special police units is another sign of the government's growing nervousness about the impact of the crisis on Russia. The interior ministry official spoke of a deteriorating socio-economic environment, and said the crisis could get even worse.

According to the IMF, the countries of the former Soviet Union will be the hardest hit of all the regions in the world. It predicts that the Russian economy will shrink by far more than the government has been prepared to admit.

Already, millions of Russians have been thrown out of work, while prices, including for food, have continued to rise rapidly. In some areas people have taken to the streets to vent their anger.

So far the demonstrations have been small, but there have been specific calls for the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his government to resign.

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