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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Investigate Violence At Vyborg

Leningrad region prosecutors are investigating last week's violent confrontation between workers at the Vyborg Pulp and Paper Mill and local Justice Ministry authorities in which two workers were shot.

According to an official at the Leningrad regional prosecutor's office, criminal cases were opened Friday against officers of the special Typhoon unit of the regional Justice Ministry in connection with the shootings.

Prosecutors have also opened cases against eight workers, who are being investigated on suspicion of resisting the authorities.

On Thursday, a hostage drama unfolded at the mill when armed Typhoon officers in black ski masks tried to seize the facility in the middle of the night on behalf of foreign owners locked out by their employees.

Typhoon forces burst into the central building at 2 a.m. Thursday and locked themselves in on the second floor with eight workers. Other workers, angered by the takeover attempt, beat up Alexander Sabadash, who was appointed director of the mill by its British owners.

The standoff continued for almost 15 hours before the Typhoon officers left.

On Monday, an official at the mill - located in Sovietsky, a small town 140 kilometers north of St. Petersburg near the border with Finland - said in a telephone interview that "everything is back to normal" at the mill, which began operating Sunday after a three-day interruption.

"The only extraordinary matter now is that about 50 workers are guarding the plant around the clock," said Galina Pakuleva, a secretary to the worker-elected director of the mill. "We are all waiting for a civilized resolution of the conflict."

The Typhoon officers arrived at the plant to fulfill an arbitration court order to put an end to a 21-month standoff between the workers of the mill and its owners.

In 1997, the state-owned plant was purchased by Cyprus-based Nimonor Investment Ltd., which later sold the factory to British-based Alcem U.K. Ltd.

But the workers elected their own director, Alexander Vantorin, and refused to let the new owners onto the mill's territory, and threatened to block the Scandinavian Highway, the busiest trucking route between Russia and Finland.

The workers fear layoffs and say Alcem is planning to turn the paper mill into a plywood factory, which would require fewer workers. Of the 7,000 people in Sovietsky, more than 2,000 work at the mill, which also provides the town with heat and electricity.

Since February, workers have been operating the mill by themselves, receiving monthly salaries of about 1,500 rubles (about $60), which are paid from the sales the mill makes.

According to the Leningrad region administration, in August the mill worked at 64 percent capacity, producing cellulose, wallpaper, paper and yeast.

However, the Vyborg mill has not been paying taxes during this period, and according to a special government commission set up to research the financial state of the plant, its tax debt in September was nearly 11.3 million rubles ($450,000).