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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Aug 3, 2010

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TODAY: Fires claim 40 lives, environmentalists blame government measures; heatwave drownings; Medvedev not keen on a Putin power struggle; 50 detained at Khimki rally; human rights council calls for dismissal of Federal Youth Agency; military veterans win in the European Court of Human Rights; plane crash kills 12; North Caucasus militant leader ‘resigns’.
The wildfire death toll had hit 40 as of last night, as a state of emergency was declared in seven regions, including Moscow, Ryazan, Vladimir and Nizhny Novgorod.  Environmentalists are blaming the catastrophe on government policies, in particular the 2007 cancellation of a woodland-fire control system.  A reported 1,229 people drowned last month, largely in heatwave-and-alcohol incidents.  President Dmitry Medvedev says that a ‘power struggle‘ with Vladimir Putin for the presidential role in 2012 ‘would be bad for Russia‘.  The LA Times analyzes recent news reports on the wildfires, concluding that Putin is gearing up to be president once again, quoting a Kremlin expert: ‘It is quite obvious that Putin uses these difficult times to show the people who is the strong man in the country, who is the national leader, who is the can-do man‘.

The Moscow Times reports that an unsanctioned rally held yesterday in the Khimki forest, protesting the plan to clear it for an $8 billion highway, saw the detention of about 50 people including Left Front leader Konstantin Kosyakin and Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin, who said he had been injured on Saturday in a police encounter at a separate Khimki protest.  The Kremlin’s human rights council wants the head of the Federal Youth Agency to be dismissed over an exhibition at a youth camp portraying rights and opposition leaders as Nazis with impaled heads.  A group of 87 military veterans has been awarded $873,000 by the European Court of Human Rights after being denied pensions and a fair trial in Russia (thanks to the ‘systemic‘ violation known as ‘review trials‘). 
A 19th-century mansion in a Moscow conservation area has been knocked down, despite pickets and protests by preservation activists.  The death toll of last night’s An-24 plane crash in East Siberia has reached 12.  The leader of a North Caucasus militant group thought to be responsible for the March metro attacks has apparently resigned.
PHOTO: A women crosses herself as she holds a paper icon of St. Ilya as a Russian paratrooper, left, holds their unit’s flag to celebrate their troops’ arms, the Airborne Forces, at the Moscow Red Square, Monday, Aug. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)