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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Gypsies Shot Dead, Police Arrest Suspect

An attacker with a hunting rifle shot and killed two Gypsies in the northwestern region of Pskov, where racists have called for violence against Roma people, a police official said, days after an attack on a Roma camp in the southern region of Volgograd left two people dead.

The assailant opened fire Sunday in the home of two Gypsy brothers, aged 26 and 27, in the village of Kuznetsovka, regional Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Voronetsky said. Both men died at a hospital. A 23-year-old suspect was arrested, he said.

Voronetsky said there was no evidence the killings were race-related, and a duty officer at the regional prosecutor's office said the suspect was likely to be charged with murder -- not murder motivated by ethnic bias. Voronetsky said the suspect, who may have been drunk, knew the victims and that they were on bad terms and had apparently quarreled.

However, a wave of racially motivated attacks in Russia have raised concerns of growing militant nationalism.

Last September, leaflets calling for violence against Gypsies were circulated shortly after the abduction and killing of a Gypsy in Pskov.

The leaflets, signed by a movement calling itself Free Russia, urged Pskov residents to provide the group with the names and addresses of Gypsies in the city. They accused Gypsies of drug trafficking, compared them to spiders and included a call to "clean up Russia," the human rights group Memorial said at the time.

In the Volgograd region, nine people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in an attack on a Roma camp Thursday night, regional Interior Ministry spokesman Vladimir Shilenkov said.

Police said a group of young men beat inhabitants with metal bars, killing a man and a woman and leaving an 80-year-old woman and a 14-year-old girl gravely wounded.

Officials had earlier said that three men detained Friday faced charges of racially motivated murder, but Shilenkov said that so far police have found no evidence the attack was motivated by race or extremism.

Law enforcement authorities often make similar statements following attacks that rights groups say are clearly motivated by racial bias, fueling the anger of the Kremlin's critics who say the government does little to stem hate crimes and is seeking to use the spread of racist attacks as political capital in upcoming elections.

Russia has experienced a marked rise in xenophobia and racism in recent years, including hundreds of attacks mainly on dark-skinned immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains region and foreigners from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Dozens have died. In St. Petersburg, a student from Senegal was fatally shot earlier this month, a 9-year-old girl of mixed Russian and African origin was hospitalized after being stabbed near her apartment building in March, and a man from Mali was stabbed to death in February.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriach Alexy II complained Monday that attacks on ethnic Russians, including church workers, are not given attention by the media, citing what he said was the recent beating of a seminary student.