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Ban Takes Effect in Russia Against Foreigners Working in Retail Markets

A ban on foreigners working in Russia's retail markets has gone into effect, leaving many market owners wondering how to staff the booths selling everything from fruit to clothing. Critics also say the measure is racist. Bill Gasperini has more for VOA from Moscow.

Marketplaces around Russia are partly empty because of the ban.

The measure is among the laws passed last year that President Vladimir Putin says aim to boost job prospects for Russian citizens. But critics say it is really a populist measure that taps into nationalist sentiment before parliamentary elections due in December.

There have also been complaints the measure will push up prices for most goods, especially in Russia's Far East, where Chinese have long dominated retail trade.

People there say some shortages have occurred recently, as the Chinese began leaving in anticipation of the ban.

These Far-East consumers say prices had gone up a lot, and that before Chinese traders usually offered more goods for better prices.

Officials in some Russian regions warn the economy will be disrupted as many traders of non-Russian descent have been forced to abandon their market stalls.

But the government has defended the measure, with officials pointing out that the quota for legal foreign workers increased from one million to six million in January. There are estimated to be around 12 million illegal foreign workers in Russia, mostly from other former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains.

And as in Europe, immigration has become a hot political issue, but the backlash in Russia has also included attacks against mostly dark-skinned foreigners.

The respected monitoring organization Sova says there were more than 500 such attacks last year that resulted in 54 deaths, an increase over the previous year.

Eleven of those victims died when a bomb exploded in a crowded Moscow marketplace dominated by Chinese and other foreigners.