MOSCOW, February 29 (RIA Novosti, Alexey Eremenko)
Street rallies and opposition hunger strikes were instigated by foreign powers in the southern Russian town of Lermontov in a rare case of protest activity in the country's provinces, the regional governor’s office said.
“Lermontov became the grounds for an information war involving foreign forces,” said Yelena Mikhina, a spokeswoman for Stavropol Region Governor Valery Gayevsky, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on Tuesday.
“Georgian television arrived there first. Radio Liberty and other media trained for an ‘orange scenario’ also were there,” said Mikhina, who also spoke about the “orange plague,” a reference to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, which brought the opposition to power.
Mikhina did not specify the possible interest that foreign powers may have in toppling the government in Lermontov, a city of 22,000 in the region of once-famed North Caucasus mountain resorts.
The protesters, who included the majority of deputies of the outgoing town legislature, have repeatedly said their target was the regional administration, which is accused of seeking to merge Lermontov into the neighboring city of Pyatigorsk to build a waste incineration plant here.
A 55-year-old Chernobyl veteran participating in the hunger strike was hospitalized on Wednesday, local medics said. A 75-year-old protester was hospitalized on Monday, but 27 others are continuing the strike.
The situation in Lermontov reached a boiling point after local authorities and courts banned most of 15 municipal legislators from running in snap elections on March 4.
Critics insist the vote and the candidate selection were both fraught with violations, though neither local officials nor the Central Elections Commission reported any breaches in the law.
Legislators went on a hunger strike on February 21. Media reports said their supporters took the town hall by storm, while sympathetic local police refused to intervene.
The protesters were eventually forced to move to a “secret place,” and some of them gave up the hunger strike, though others joined. A protest rally demanding to cancel the vote on March 4, timed for the presidential elections, took place in Lermontov last week, gathering some 1,500.
Protesters have accused regional administration earlier of preparing a smear campaign against them, though officials denied it. They also appealed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, neither of whom reacted.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).