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The Ugly Side Of G-8's St. Petersburg

Beth Knobel has been CBS News' Moscow Bureau Chief for the past seven years.

Russia's people of color are under attack — and some of the worst attacks have happened in St. Petersburg, the site of next weekend's Group of Eight summit.

Like the 9-year-old girl from Tajikistan, Khursheda Sultonova, who was stabbed nine times by a group of white men in February 2004. Or the exchange student from Senegal, Lanzar Samba, who was shot in the back as he left a nightclub in April.

For the past few months, St. Petersburg has gotten more publicity for its violence than for anything else. Some people now consider it the most racist city in Russia.

The situation is so bad that the United Nations' top expert on racism came to Russia to investigate.

"I concluded there is a very strong racist and xenophobic dynamic which is now working throughout the Russian society," Doudou Diene, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, told CBS News. "And it has to be checked," said Diene, who is Senegalese.

But extremist groups operate in Russia almost unchecked. They advocate throwing out the dark-skinned people of Central Asia and the Caucuses, as well as visiting Africans and Latins — leaving only ethnic Slavs.

Television producer Elkhan Mirzoyev met a group of men with those sorts of views on the Moscow subway late one night in April.

Mirzoyev, whose family comes from Azerbaijan, was reading a book when members of the gang sat down and started speaking with him. One of the men was dressed in what Mirzoyev described as a typical skinhead outfit of camouflage and army boots.

"What right do you think you have to live in Moscow?" Mirzoyev said he was asked, before the men became more aggressive. Then, unprovoked, they hit him with a beer bottle and started to beat and kick him.

Several members of the group were caught and went on trial this week.

"If I hadn't been a journalist, the police wouldn't have even bothered to look for the culprits," complained Mirzoyev. "They only search if the victim is killed, or is somewhat well-known."

He says he's often seen racism on an everyday level.

"Nationalism is thriving among people who are not well-educated, and unfortunately it is often prevalent among very educated people as well," Mirzoyev said. "This is a threat to our society at large."

The Moscow Bureau of Human Rights said that there have been 100 ethnically motivated crimes in Russia so far this year. The attacks have left 18 people dead and around 160 injured.

Critics in Russia argue that the government just isn't doing enough to fight racism — that it's not cracking down on extremist groups or giving harsh sentences to people found guilty of hate crimes.

Seven men accused of attacking that Tajik girl in St. Petersburg, for example, were found guilty of hooliganism — not murder — and received sentences from 18 months to 5½ years.

The Russian government says it's doing plenty — like launching more raids and passing new laws. New, tougher legislation on extremism is currently working its way through the Russian parliament.

But the U.N.'s own racism expert didn't walk around Moscow alone during his visit. He was told that because he is African, it was just too dangerous.

By Beth Knobel

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