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Russia's hoodwinked homebuyers turn ire on Kremlin

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, June 5 (Reuters) Irina Tarasenko owns an apartment in house No. 42 on Moscow's Bolshaya Ochakovskaya Street, but the nearest she can get to it is the children's playground 14 floors below.

She paid 50,000 dollars for her one-room property when the building was still on the drawing board. It was finished last year, but no one could move in because, it turned out, the developer had sold the same apartments to two or more buyers.

''I still cannot believe it,'' said Tarasenko, standing next to the swings in the playground.

A 34-year-old aid worker, she is due to give birth to her first child this month. She is lodging with her sister.

''I would like to have my own home,'' she said. ''(But) the money I paid disappeared and the company I dealt with disappeared as well.'' Pressure groups say there are up to 100,000 people across Russia who have lost their money in similar schemes -- the developer either swindled them or went bankrupt before finishing the building.

In a country where officials have a reputation for being corrupt, indifferent to people's problems or both, many victims blame the authorities as much as the developers.

On May 19, several hundred people pitched tents on the lawn in front of the White House government headquarters.

''We have come to demand help,'' said protester Boris Kazyonov.

''All we get from (the authorities) is brush-offs and empty promises.'' It was a short-lived protest -- riot police broke up the encampment after dark. But it was a rare example of civil disobedience and made the issue a political embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Parliament, which is loyal to the Kremlin, hastily arranged meetings with the protesters and promised an investigation.

''We are seeing the sort of civil society that many people thought did not exist in Russia,'' said Anton Belyakov, head of a pressure group that represents many of the victims.

More Reuters SI RN0956

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