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Russia: Ecologists fear for Baikal as Putin saves factory

Source:  Copyright 2010, Reuters
Date:  April 2, 2010
Byline:  Dmitry Solovyov
Original URL: Status ONLINE

On the shores of Lake Baikal, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is held up as a savior and cursed as a scourge after allowing a Soviet-era paper mill to reopen beside the world's largest freshwater lake.

Ecologists have branded Russia's most powerful man as the killer of Baikal, a 25-million-year-old lake believed by local tribes to be sacred, and have mustered thousands of people at protests calling for his resignation.

Putin's opponents say he has misjudged the public mood and is risking Baikal to save 1,470 jobs at the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which was mothballed in late 2008 amid a pollution row.

Locals like Lyubov Kozyreva see it differently.

"Who told you the mill poisons the lake? These 'greens' and Putin critics are only trying to grandstand and score political points," said the 70-year-old, who sells carrots and pickles in biting frost to supplement her modest pension.

She promised to pray for ...

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