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Cablegate: Pandemonium Erupts at Public Hearing On Okhta Center

R 021114Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2574
INFO AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG
AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
AMEMBASSY TALLINN
AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
AMEMBASSY KYIV
AMEMBASSY RIGA
AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG

UNCLAS ST PETERSBURG 000135

FOR /RUS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI SCUL KDEM RS ECON PGOV
SUBJECT: PANDEMONIUM ERUPTS AT PUBLIC HEARING ON OKHTA CENTER

REF: A. ST. PETERSBURG 0180
B. ST. PETERSBURG 0130
C. ST. PETERSBURG 0007


1. (SBU) Summary: The June 27th public hearing on the proposed
construction of the Okhta Center degenerated into chaos shortly
after its start. An estimated 75% of the audience was
recruited by authorities in order to stage enthusiastic public
support of the project. Civic and political activists who
demanded cancellation or postponement of the hearing were
arrested by special police forces. Organizers however, insist
that the hearing went as planned and was legitimate. End Summary

2. (SBU) Several days before the hearings, civil activists in
St. Petersburg received information that the hearing's
organizers were recruiting "stand-in's" through Lenfilm studio.
By 13:00 on the day of the hearing, approximately three quarters
of the hall, which can accommodate 620 people, was filled by
these hired "public representatives". Some groups wore pins of a
fictitious NGO named "Novy Peterburg," whose web-site was only
created on June 26.

3. (SBU) When the hearing opened at 15:00, activists demanded
that organizers cancel or postpone it on the grounds that
participants were not actually members of the interested public,
but individuals hired by authorities to support the project.
They also cited procedural violations regarding the exhibiting
of project documents and informing public of the date and time
of the hearing. The organizers ignored the activists' requests
and attempted to continue the meeting. At that moment, a group
of about 20 individuals (members of Dvizhenie Grazhdanskikh
Initsiativ, Zhivoy Gorod, Yabloko and National Bolsheviks)
stormed the podium insisting that their leaders be given the
opportunity to speak. The organizers refused and called special
police forces, who brutally handcuffed and arrested about six
activists.

4. (SBU) Despite constant protests from a small part of the
audience, the hearing went on with the podium now protected by
police officers. Many of the speakers opposed to the project
accused organizers of falsifying the results of the previous
hearings and excluding critical comments from the minutes. The
organizers did not respond to these comments or react in any
way. The hearing ended at 18:00, and according to the
organizers, was a success. Activists are planning to challenge
the results in court.

5. (SBU) Several reporters were also planted into the audience
and later published stories and interviews with other
"supporters." Following the hearing, a large line of people
were seen collecting their payment from buses parked close to
the business center where the hearing was held. When TV crews
discovered what was happening, the remainder were instructed to
receive money at Lenfilm studio the next day.

6. (SBU) Comment: The hearing was a sorry example of civil
society in today's Russia. Required by law, the so-called
public hearing has now been declared "done" allowing authorities
to move forward. Public reaction has been muted thus far.
Press coverage was light since the hearing was held late on a
Friday afternoon.
Despite recent criticism of current urban development policy in
St. Petersburg by the media and direct accusations that Governor
Matvienko is ruining the city with uncontrolled high rise
construction, local authorities seem determined to continue
forward with Okhta Center project. More and more observers,
however, doubt that the Tower will ever be built. They suspect
it is likely to follow the path of two other notorious
construction projects: the High Speed Railway Station and
Mariinskiy Theater-2, where construction has been halted and is
likely never to resume. For now, it's a toss-up.

KRUGER

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