by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Sept 9, 2011
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been voted the "worst enemy of lake Baikal" in an online poll organised by Greenpeace, the environmental organisation said Friday
"Vladimir Putin came in first with 52 percent of votes in the Greenpeace contest organised to determine who is the worst enemy of Lake Baikal," said Roman Vazhenkov, who heads the NGO's Russian branch's Baikal programme.
The UNESCO-protected Baikal stretches across Russia's Siberia and contains 20 percent of the world's fresh water reserves.
A Soviet-era paper mill has operated on its shores for years before an environmental watchdog ordered it to stop dumping waste into the lake, effectively shutting it down.
However Putin issued a decree in early 2010 that allowed the mill to continue production, citing unemployment concerns, leading to a series of environmental protests.
A video made by Greenpeace shows divers erecting a sign listing Baikal's enemies on the lake's floor next to a stream of greenish waste emitted from a pipe.
Putin's name is followed by the runners-up -- the Russian cabinet, and several ministries that failed to stop the pollution, the video says.
"We consider the victory of Vladimir Putin altogether deserved given his role in the reopening of the Baikalsk enterprise," said Vazhenkov. Over 9,000 people participated in the poll.
Environmentalists have long called for the Baikalsk Paper and Pulp mill to be closed and for the local government to instead pursue tourism as the source of income for locals.
On Monday Putin affirmed his 2010 decision to relaunch the mill by saying that Russia needed the pulp produced in Baikalsk for its military, specifically in making rockets.
Greenpeace has argued the old debt-stricken mill, built in 1966, emits some 100,000 cubic metres of waste into the lake every year and must be closed down or moved elsewhere.
"If the government closes the mill, the locals can develop tourism and create new jobs," Vazhenkov said.
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