17 Killed in Hate Crimes

Seventeen people have been killed and more than 50 others injured in Russia since the beginning of the year in the latest outbreak of hate crimes, the Sova Center said Friday.

"This is a lot," said Sova deputy director Galina Kozhevnikova, adding that 11 of the 17 killings were committed in Moscow.

During all of 2007, 67 people were killed and more than 550 injured across the country in ethnically motivated attacks, according to the annual report by Sova. The figure represented a 13 percent increase over the previous year, with hate crimes growing increasingly brutal and deadly, the report said.

If the crimes were to continue at the same rate throughout the year, 2008 would see a total of 135 hate killings -- double the number recorded in 2007.

Kozhevnikova said the latest outbreak could be a response to authorities' recent attempts to get tougher on hate crimes, which have been on the rise across Russia in recent years.

"This is an indication of the organized nature of ethnically motivated attacks," Kozhevnikova said.

Another reason for the outbreak, she said, was this year's unusually warm winter in Moscow.

Moscow prosecutor's office said Friday that it had recorded 16 crimes on ethnic grounds in the city since the beginning of 2008, RIA-Novosti reported.

All the crimes were committed by groups of youths, aged 12 to 19, who attacked their victims from behind with knifes, said the prosecutor's office's investigative department chief, Valery Spasenykh, RIA-Novosti reported.

Rights activists have said that the authorities, who earlier came under criticism for doing little to combat xenophobia, have been making efforts recently to investigate hate crimes more thoroughly and take such cases to court.

Some activists say, however, that the extreme nationalist sentiments are an outgrowth of the Kremlin's attempts to rebuild a strong state. President Vladimir Putin has publicly condemned the rise of hate crime, xenophobia and neo-Nazism and called on prosecutors to do more to fight extremism.