Saturday, December 05, 2009

Russia: Dam disaster - was Putin protected from awkward questions?

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
Was Putin Shielded From Tough Questions Over Dam Tragedy?

Three people with keen interest in the deadly accident at Russia's Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower station believe they were intentionally prevented from asking Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin questions about the station during his annual televised call-in show on December 3, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The Sayano-Shushenskaya station, the largest power plant in Russia, suffered a catastrophic accident on August 17 that flooded engine and turbine rooms and caused an explosion that killed at least 74 workers.

Erik Chernyshov, a journalist from the town of Sayanogorsk, told RFE/RL that he and city council member Grigory Nazarenko were not allowed to enter the station's engine room, where participants in Putin's call-in show had been assembled to ask questions.

Chernyshov and Nazarenko were actively involved in the investigation of the disaster and in the assistance given to victims' relatives.

The two say they wanted to ask Putin about rumors that the power plant is still unsafe and whether any followup investigations are planned.

Nikolai Zholob, the chairman of the Committee to Help the Disaster's Victims, was offered a free stay at a resort by the administration of the power station on the eve of Putin's show.

He told RFE/RL that he did not know when Putin's show was going to take place but thinks that the free stay at the resort, which was 500 kilometers from the power station, was given to him to keep him from attending Putin's call-in session.

Meanwhile, Svetlana Antropova, the trade union chairwoman in the Russian city of Pikalyovo, near St. Petersburg, was also prevented from taking part in Putin's program. Pikalyovo was the site of massive protests against wages and layoffs earlier this year by workers at the local aluminum-producing plant.

Antropova told RFE/RL that she was locked in a room at the plant when the call-in show began.

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