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MOSCOW — Activists in Moscow vowed Friday to persist with their campaign against plans to bulldoze a highway through a radioactive waste site, despite a police crackdown and mass detentions.

The campaign started two months ago as a small grassroots effort and made national headlines on Thursday night after riot police stormed the protesters’ makeshift command post near the site and detained more than 60 people.

On Friday, several dozen people gathered near the site again. “We will continue to fight. Of course, we’re not willing to give up,” Larisa Bodrova, one of the activists, told The Associated Press before the meeting.

Bodrova and dozens of other activists live in residential blocks in southeast Moscow, where city authorities plan to build a multi-lane motorway. Part of it is supposed to go through a plot of land where at least 60,000 tons of nuclear waste are buried, according to Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor.

Digging into the contaminated land is dangerous, as it would stir up a huge amount of radioactive dust, Alexei Ozerov, a physicist supporting the activists, told the AP.

Radiation levels in the surface soil are already several times higher than normal, activists say.

Construction work was supposed to start in early January, but the activists blocked the entrance to the contaminated area, not letting workers and trucks in. Since then, they have been camping out there day and night, keeping warm in an old used minivan they all chipped in to buy.

In late January, Moscow officials acknowledged the problem and admitted the area had “minor traces” of contamination. They promised to start removing the contaminated earth in the spring, but the activists continued their round-the-clock watch, demanding a thorough investigation into the levels of contamination first.

As the starting date for earth removal works grew near, the police turned up the pressure on the activists and tried to clear out the makeshift camp this week. The activists, supported by dozens of local residents, blocked a tow truck and refused to go away despite the presence of a riot squad. The resistance continued on Wednesday, and on Thursday it resulted in mass detentions. By Friday morning, almost all of those detained were let go.

Print Headline: Moscow activists standing ground

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