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More than 240 Chinese detained in Russian clampdown
By Wang Linyan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-10 06:49

China Thursday called upon Russia to guarantee the rights of Chinese businesspeople and workers after reports said more than 240 Chinese had been detained in recent days.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing had not yet received official notification from Russia about the reported detentions.

But media reports said Russia's Federal Migration Service apprehended 150 Chinese "illegal immigrants" on Wednesday during an inspection at Moscow's Cherkizovsky Market.

Authorities reportedly said 50 of those detained had overstayed their visas and would be expelled. Around 100 others were given 10 days to leave the country after losing residency privileges because they had lost their jobs.

On Tuesday, 16 Chinese were detained on suspicion of breaking Russia's residency regulations, China News Agency said.

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Another 77 were detained the same day at a protest against the closure of Cherkizovsky Market. They, too, are understood to be facing deportation.

The market, which was established in the early 1990s, is the biggest daily wholesale market in Russia, and a place of business for about 80,000 Chinese.

Police ordered the market to close on June 29 after inspectors found a series of sanitary and storage violations. The closure followed a call from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for a crackdown on smuggling at the market after about $2 billion of "smuggled goods" were seized in a raid last September.

Russia's state television has claimed the market's multimillionaire owner, Telman Ismailov, laundered billions of dollars through the facility, the Moscow Times reported.

Liu Yanli, a trader from Harbin, Heilongjiang province, at the market, was concerned about the closure.

"I'm debt-ridden," Liu told Beijing Youth Daily.

Experts said the detentions for allegedly breaking Russia's residency laws and for protesting against the closure of the market will not negatively impact the relationship between the countries, but may tarnish Russia's image among Chinese. "From Russia's perspective, it's right to clean up the market and fight smuggling. But the detentions will leave a shadow in the hearts of Chinese businessmen," said Wan Chengcai, a researcher with Xinhua World Studies Center who recently visited Moscow.

Gao Xiyun, an official with the Chinese embassy in Russia, said during a July 6 meeting with Chinese businessmen and immigrants that China was opposed to smuggling.

Qin added: "We would like to remind Chinese businessmen in Moscow to abide by local laws and regulations."