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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Censored TV Presenter at Center of Fracas

ST. PETERSBURG -- The sacking of firebrand nationalist television presenter Alexander Nevzorov threatened to develop into a major political incident Tuesday, as angry crowds kept vigil outside the TV station, infuriated by management's failure to reinstate him.

Crowds of communist and nationalist devotees of the 34-year-old host of the popular nightly news show "600 Seconds" doubled in number overnight to around 2, 000, after the 10-minute show failed to appear in its usual slot.

Nevzorov's supporters have been, picketing St. Petersburg television since Friday, when he was taken off the air for making inflammatory broadcasts. They threw up barricades, burned an effigy of St. Petersburg television's director Bella Kurkova and clashed with police.

Nevzorov, who is known for his conservative, anti-Yeltsin views was fired by Kurkova just 24 hours after President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree taking Russian media under his control. His dismissal is fast becoming a focal point in the struggle for control of the media between the president and the legislature.

The day before he was fired Nevzorov had made a televised appeal for citizens to form opolcheniya -- unarmed volunteer regiments -- to defend the Russian Constitution from alleged violations by Yeltsin.

A committee composed of television authorities and City Council deputies found Tuesday "that '600 Second's is no longer an informational news program, but propaganda".

They cited a broadcast in which Nevzorov claimed that the country's leaders were spies serving foreign interests. The committee recommended that the television channel turn to the prosecutor's office to begin criminal proceedings against the program.

Inside the heavily guarded television building Tuesday, Nevzorov's offices had the feel of a military campaign and the leather-jacketed darling of Russia's conservatives expressed his fury at the generally liberal television station's directors.

"This is outrageous behaviour that even the Communist Party would not have thought of", he said.

On Monday, Nevzorov and the rest of the "600 Seconds" team met with the assistant director for St. Petersburg television, Viktor Pravdyuk, in an effort to end a standoff that increasingly threatens to turn violent.

Nevzorov's assistants said that during the meeting he had reluctantly accepted a deal whereby he could resume airing his program, but only if he submitted the footage for inspection prior to airtime every night -- a process Nevzorov attacked as "censorship".

The censorship issue strikes a sensitive chord, as Yeltsin has explained_his assumption of control over the media as a defensive measure, designed to protect it from interference by the conservative legislature.

According to Nevzorov, Pravdyuk ordered his crews to be denied access to cameras and other essential equipment on Monday, making it impossible for them to produce the show.

"600 Seconds" has held the number-one spot in St. Petersburg since first airing in 1987, according to Seven Days, a ratings newspaper.

The charismatic Nevzorov, whose biting political and social reportages have earned his program the nickname "10 Minutes of Hatred", is a guru-like figure to his loyal fans. He has achieved cult status among various rightist and conservative factions.

Nevzorov lashed out at that decision, saying "it's no secret civil war is brewing, and it could start with this affair".

Unshaven and hunched over a desk littered with cigarette butts, newspapers, and telephones, the agitated television presenter resembled a besieged leader hunkering down for battle.

"'600 Second's is the only program in Russia expressing opposition to Yeltsin", he said, labeling Yeltsin "a sick man and an alcoholic".

"If the authorities can violate the Constitution", he said, "there's no reason we can't. We are prepared to take any and all action".

Since Nevzorov's removal, thousands of protestors have gathered nightly outside St Petersburg television headquarters. Over 150 men from OMON -- a special-forces squad -- stand 24-hour guard inside the building.