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Protesters open roads after demos over northwest Russia closures


ST. PETERSBURG, June 2 (RIA Novosti) - Some 300 residents from a town in northwest Russia, which has been affected by the closure of three of the region's main employers amid the financial crisis, have unblocked a highway, a local official said on Tuesday.

Women and children were among the protesters, who gathered earlier on Tuesday to block the highway which links Russia's second city of St. Petersburg with Vologda, in the north of European Russia, demanding wage arrears be paid.

The problems began for Pikalyovo, some 200 kilometers from St. Petersburg, when an alumina factory, now controlled by a subsidiary of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element group, closed after the price of alumina crashed leading to the closure of two cement plants earlier this year.

"The road is free, and traffic has been restored," the spokesman for the Leningrad Region government, Valentin Sidorin said. The regional authorities were critical of the demonstrations. "Such campaigns are no way to solve the problems facing Pikalyovo," a local administration official said. Region Governor Valery Serdyukov ordered 1.7 million rubles ($55,300) in financial assistance to be provided to Pikalyovo residents who have been left jobless by the closures.

The governor also gave instructions for 5 million rubles ($162,600) to be used to cover wage arrears at BasEl Cement-Pikalyovo, a cement producer converted from Pikalyovo's alumina plant.

The regional authorities said the management at BasEl Cement had also pledged to amalgamate the three factories into a single entity, Sidorin said.

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