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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elites' Candlelit Vigil Protests Kivelidi Hit

Roused to action by the killing of banker Ivan Kivelidi, the self-proclaimed "elite of the Russian business world" gathered in Lubyanskaya Ploshchad on Wednesday to pay tribute to the victims of contract killings and to protest violence against businessmen.

About 10 of Russia's most prominent businessmen gathered at the State Monument to the Victims of Political Repression to form an unusually exclusive and influential group of candlelight protesters, all of whom spoke of their anger and remorse following Kivelidi's death by poisoning and of their desire to make Russia safe for honest business.

Those attending included former finance minster Andrei Nechayev; the director of the Moscow Prom-Torgovlaya Palata, Yury Kotov; and Kakha Bendukhidze, director of the joint-stock company "BO-Pro" and one of the wealthiest men in Russia.

Only about 100 spectators came to show their support, but the ceremony was attended by more than 300 journalists.

Nechayev, who led the ceremony organized by the Russian Business Roundtable, said the candlelight vigil was only a beginning. "This is the first of many actions we as honest businessmen vow to take in our fight to free business from the criminal world," he said.

"A real war has been declared against Russian businessmen, and it must be stopped," he added. "We must pressure the government to punish criminals, rid the law-enforcement organs of corruption and protect honest business."

The Russian business world has been rocked by a wave of mafia attacks against bankers and businessmen in the last few years. According to the Russian Association of Bankers, there have been 85 contract attacks on bankers in Russia in the last three years, resulting in 47 deaths, 21 of them employees, relatives or others close to the bankers.

Industrial leaders have also been targeted as the Russian business world has become increasingly dominated by violence and strong-arm tactics.

Kivelidi, the founder of the Russian Business Roundtable and the president of the Rosbizbank, died Aug. 4 after being poisoned. The Roundtable has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Kivelidi's killers.

For many business leaders, his death has come to symbolize the climate of fear and lawlessness in which murders are a common method for solving business differences, and the criminals who commit them go unpunished.

"Kivelidi for me is a symbol," said Kotov. "His death says all there is to say about a period in our history when people are willing to kill without provocation, just to get themselves a little piece of green grass."

Nechayev said the group plans to organize a mass public protest sometime in September. He did not specify a date or a place.

The relatively small number of supporters at the ceremony may be an indication of the problems these wealthy businessmen face in their campaign for justice.

"There is a public perception that all businessmen are criminals," said Lyudmilla Mavroskaya, a bank secretary who came to the ceremony to show her support. "It is difficult for the average person to feel sorry for men like these, who drive Mercedes and BMWs."

Ira Fralova, a doctor who said she came "because one can't be indifferent to murder," agreed.

"I'm here, but I also wouldn't want to say that I'm part of this crowd. They don't have the best reputation."