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7 people undergo trial in connection with anti-hate crime campaigner's murder

Seven people went on trial in St. Petersburg Wednesday in connection with the murder of an anti-hate crime campaigner.

Timur Kacharava and a friend were attacked in Russia's second-largest city in November 2005 by about 10 people aged from 17 to 20 years. Kacharava died after being repeatedly stabbed, while the friend was hospitalized with various injuries.

Following the arrest of most of the group's members, prosecutors said the two students' active involvement in anti-hate crime campaigns might have been a motive for the attack, although other motives were also under examination.

The SOVA human rights center, which monitors xenophobia in Russia, said seven people, three of them minors, went on trial in a St. Petersburg court Wednesday accused of hooliganism and incitement of ethnic hatred. Only one was also accused of murder with a motive of hooliganism and attempted murder.

Several of the accused said they were guilty of some of the charges, while the underage suspects pleaded innocent, saying that they were only watching, SOVA said.

Neither court officials nor prosecutors could be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Russia has seen a marked rise in xenophobia and racism in recent years, with numerous of attacks on foreigners - many of them from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus - as well as members of ethnic minorities within Russia and Jews.

Nikolai Girenko, a prominent expert on skinheads, was killed in St. Petersburg in June 2004 in what many believe was retaliation for his studies of neo-Nazi and racist groups.

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