Russia to launch Muslim TV channel

MOSCOW, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Russia will soon launch a Muslim television channel in the hope it will foster tolerance after the capital saw some of the worst clashes since the fall of the Soviet Union, state-run media reported on Tuesday.

Proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev two years ago, the satellite channel will go on air in February or March across Russia, home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the country’s population.

“We believe it is necessary to cultivate a spirit of tolerance towards representatives of other faiths,” RIA news agency quoted Russia’s chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin as saying, adding programmes will be designed for a young audience.

Neo-nationalist movements have been gaining ground over the past year, shocking authorities and many Russians. At rallies, some chanted slogans such as “Russia is for Russians!”

In December, Moscow saw the worst nationalist riots in its post-Soviet history, with police unable to stop some 7,000 youths who gathered near the Kremlin from beating people of non-Slavic appearance.

Both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the violence. [ID:nLDE70G21Y]

The violence was sparked by the Dec. 6 killing of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow soccer fan, during a fight between a group of ethnic Russians and migrants from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, Russia’s most volatile region.

With high unemployment and an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, many migrants from the region go to the Russian heartland in search of jobs.

Many say they are treated with suspicion by ethnic Russians and often face racism.

The new channel will have to compete with Chechen channel “Put”, meaning “The Way” in Russian.

Set up three years ago by the state and broadcast to thousands across the North Caucasus, it features children’s programmes, instructions for women on how to keep home and readings of the Koran throughout the night. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman)