MOSCOW (AP) — Russian activists and political commentators are criticizing Moscow authorities over the late-night destruction of small businesses when a number of buildings were flattened around the city on orders from city mayor's office.
"We didn't believe this would happen up until we saw them destroying our buildings," Alexei Voronin, the manager for a property rental company, said Wednesday.
Voronin told The Associated Press that his client was notified in December that five buildings located near the central Shabolovskaya metro station would be torn down because his client lacked valid documents proving he owned the land. The claim, Voronin said, was preposterous.
The Moscow mayor's office said that 97 of these "unauthorized constructions" were demolished Monday. Seven more are set to be demolished by Feb. 24.
These included buildings and shops — and also kiosks selling items from ranging from pastries and flowers to trinkets and kebabs.
Muscovites have vented their displeasure on social media sites. They used hashtags such as "Moscow," ''apocalypse," ''demolition" and "ruin" in the captions of pictures of the demolished kiosks.
Many of the buildings popped up in the 1990s and early 2000s and were loved and hated by Muscovites for being both convenient pit stops near the metro as well as eyesores.
The city said the structures were substandard, would pose obstacles to search and rescue teams in an emergency, and were built without proper permissions.
Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said the owners of the demolished structures will be offered rental properties elsewhere in the city and that the reclaimed areas will be "beautified."
The demolition of shops and kiosks comes at a delicate time: the Russian economy has been on decline and the Kremlin has been keen to show support for small businesses.
Muscovites vented their displeasure with authorities on social media sites.
One popular cartoon showed President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev trumpeting small businesses in the first two frames, and a bulldozer heading toward several shops in the last frame.
The Kremlin declined to comment on the buildings' destruction until they had more information from Moscow city authorities.
This story corrects that the number of kiosks is unknown, mayor's office speaks of "unauthorized constructions"