Thursday, April 19, 2007

MOSCOW — A leading Moscow university ordered its foreign students yesterday to remain in their dormitories for the next three days because of fears of ethnic violence before Adolf Hitler’s birthday today students said.

Hundreds of students at the prestigious Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy were told to stock up on food and warned they would not be let out of the dormitories through tomorrow in an attempt to protect them from a marked rise in hate crimes.

Ethnically motivated violence tends to increase in the days leading up to and after Hitler’s birthday, when some members of ultranationalist organizations shout slogans and stage attacks on dark-skinned foreign and other non-Slavic-looking people.

The measure at the medical academy did not appear to be exclusive. Other universities and organizations have in the past also warned foreigners of possible violence ahead of Hitler’s birthday. In Moscow, authorities have closed down some outdoor markets over the past couple of years where many traders are foreigners.

Liah Ganeline, a second-year student at Sechenov from Israel, said authorities have locked down her dormitory in southern Moscow — which houses about 500 students from Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus region — every April 20 for the past several years. She said officials call it a fire safety drill.

She said another dormitory housing several hundred students in central Moscow was subject to similar restrictions.

Miss Ganeline said, however, that all students were aware of the real reason, and noted that someone had scrawled the word “skinheads” over an announcement of the lockdown posted on a dormitory wall. Last year, she said, a group of skinheads threw firebombs at the dormitory after shouting offensive slogans and giving the Nazi salute.

“It is nice that the university is taking care of us, but on the other hand it’s absurd that our freedom is being limited because of some militant groups,” Miss Ganeline said.

Only practicing physicians-in-training were allowed to leave the building, she said, along with students who had signed a statement saying they were responsible for their own safety and had received approval from university officials. Others were given permission to miss classes.

Sergei Baranov, acting dean of the university’s foreign students department, said the school was conducting emergency drills through tomorrow. Asked why only foreign students were involved in the exercise, Mr. Baranov said attacks were possible.

“We are trying to kill two birds with one stone — these days the danger of some incidents is higher,” he said.

Miss Ganeline bought milk, yogurt, apples, corn and toilet paper and prepared to spend the next three days in the dorm with fellow students.

“It’s horrible that this is happening,” she said.

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