Foreign students in the central Russian city of Voronezh rallied twice Tuesday in protest of an incident where a Peruvian student was murdered in a racist attack earlier this week. Two other students were beaten in the same assault.

According to the Moscow News around noon on Tuesday, some 300 students set out from the Voronezh State (University) to the main square in the town where they encircled a monument to Vladimir Lenin for the rally.

The rally and another held the same day was organized by the group “Nashi (Ours).”

“We want to draw attention of the general public to the problems of racial and national discrimination,” the organization’s press centre told Itar-Tass.

Prosecutors in Voronezh, a city of 1 million located 580 kilometers south of Moscow, called the Sunday evening attack an act of hooliganism, and the region's governor concurred that it could not be considered a hate crime because a Russian student was also injured. The Russian student suffered minor injuries but was not hospitalized.

The foreign students were walking with a Russian student near the Olimpik Sports Complex on the outskirts of Voronezh at around 6 p.m. Sunday when they were attacked by 15 to 20 young men carrying knives and "blunt metal and wooden objects," Galina Gorshkova, a spokeswoman for the Voronezh regional prosecutor's office, said Monday.

Killed was Peruvian national Enrique Arturo Angeles Hurtado, a first-year student at the Voronezh State Architecture and Civil Engineering University.

Peruvian national, Alexander Manuel Navarro Ayala, 18, was hospitalized with a concussion and was in stable condition Monday, said Egorov Ramirez Hinojosa, consul-general at the Peruvian Embassy in Moscow. He said Ayala had arrived in Voronezh about a week ago.

Ilyas Altavil, who lived in the same dormitory as Hurtado, said on NTV television that the slain student had been considering leaving because of fears for his safety. "He asked me: 'Is it too scary to live here? Should I go back and live with my friends?'" Altavil said.

Sunday's attack was the latest in a series of apparently racially motivated attacks in Voronezh. Over the past five years, 13 foreign students have died in racially motivated slayings, said Gabriel Kotchofa, president of the Foreign Students Association in Russia.

Human rights activists say the practice of classifying such crimes as hooliganism rather than racially motivated has only encouraged an increase in similar attacks. "These crimes are not punished seriously, meaning the perpetrators face no consequences," Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights told the Moscow Times.

Brod said Voronezh was one of the top five cities in Russia in terms of skinhead and extremist activity, along with Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don. "The difference is that in cities like St. Petersburg, local authorities are trying to take active measures to combat xenophobia," Brod said. "In Voronezh, regional authorities are doing almost nothing."

Foreign students in Voronezh mounted a wave of protests last year after the stabbing death of Amaro Antonio Limo, a 24-year-old medical student from Guinea-Bissau. Limo was stabbed a few hundred meters from his dormitory in central Voronezh on Feb. 21, 2004. Police detained three suspects the next month, and they were convicted in September 2004 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine to 17 years.

According to a report from the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, “The level of xenophobia remained constantly high in the first half of 2005. According to different sociological surveys the percentage of supporters of xenophobic viewpoints fluctuated between 50 and 60 percents. Among the nations - top targets of population's dislike and hostility are, first of all, Chechens (14.8%), Azeri (5.1%), Armenians (4.1%) and migrants from the Caucasus in general (6.0%). Gypsies are also on the list (5.1%). Jews are mentioned less often (2.5%).” There was no information in the report concerning foreign students.

There are about 100,000 foreign nationals studying in Russia’s colleges and universities. Students from the CIS countries — the former Soviet republics — account for approximately one-third of them.

With attacks on foreign nationals on the rise across the country many of them are considering leaving Russian out of fear for their personal safety.

A 40-year-old Chinese national — a student at the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov conservatoire — was severely beaten by unidentified attackers recently. He was hospitalized with a head injury and brain concussion.

In a separate incident, an Angolan national — a former student of the Agricultural University — was attacked and wounded in the Northern capital.

Last March students at Kuban State University in Krasnodar staged a picked at the university urging authorities to protect them from skinhead attacks. That protest was held in the wake of a March 26 attack on two foreign students of the Kuban University and Medical Academy — nationals of Syria and Lebanon. Both suffered numerous injuries.

Arab students have also been attacked in St. Petersburg. Gannam Mohamad, representative of the Union of Arab Students told the Moscow Times earlier this year, “We no longer have any trust in the law enforcement agencies, while protest rallies are, apparently, useless.” Sources: RIA-Novosti, Itar-Tass, Moscow Times, Xinhua, Moscow News

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