ANTI-POLICE insurgents in Russia's far east have the backing of an astonishing 70 per cent of the population, it has been reported.
The Guardian reports that detectives are using tanks and helicopters to comb the region's coniferous forests and swamps for the gang of avenging outlaws.
The group shot dead a policeman last month in the village of Rakitnoye in the Primorye Krai region. They wounded three officers in two further attacks near the town of Spassk, officials say – shooting up a patrol and ambushing a car.
The gang's leader is said to be 32-year-old Roman Muromtsev, a former army officer and Chechen war veteran, who sent a warning letter to police last month. In it, he said local people had grown utterly fed up with police corruption and lawlessness. Unless the force mended its criminal ways, he would be compelled to act as a 'people's avenger', he threatened.
The outlaws made good their threat last month, setting fire to a police station in the region's Yakovlev district. They have reportedly seized uniforms, flak jackets and radio communications equipment. The gang are armed with automatic weapons, explosives and even grenades, officials claim.
In a defiant message posted on the web, Muromtsev called on fellow Russians to join his "war" against police "evil", adding that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for the cause. The authorities have now launched a special operation – dispatching armoured vehicles into the forests and flagging down and searching cars on federal highways.
Adds The Guardian: "The gang's exploits have gripped the Russian media. More shocking, however, is the public's reaction – with 70% of Russians, according to one radio poll, describing the gang members as 'partisans' or 'Robin Hoods'. Only 30% considered the police killers to be bandits, the poll revealed. One blogger even compared them to Che Guevara."Russia's far east has seen growing social unrest and numerous demonstrations against federal and regional authorities. Most of the gang members, said to number between five and 20, come from desperately poor local villages."