Police at the weekend detained four skinheads suspected of killing a 6-year-old Tajik girl and seriously injuring a 5-year-old and a 18-month-old in an attack on a gypsy camp south of the city on Sept. 21.
"It's still not clear what had happened there. There was some sort of a fight," Mark Nazarov, a police spokesman said Monday in a telephone interview.
The police say young radicals have been in an ongoing conflict with a camp of about 45 gypsies from Tadjikistan, who this year settled next to the Dachnoye railway station. The skinheads insisted that the gypsies either leave the place or pay them if they wanted to say, local media reported.
On Sept. 21 a group of skinheads armed with an axe, a knife and a metal rod set up an ambush near a local food store and attacked two women with children.
A 6-year-old girl died, two girls are in a critical condition and woman was taken to a local hospital.
Three suspects are in police custody on murder charges. Another suspect was released after pledging not to leave the city.
The police did not release the suspects' names.
Nazarov said all the gypsies were detained by police shortly after the attack. He declined to answer any other questions or comment any further on the case.
Novaya Gazeta reported Monday that some of them had been put on a train to Archangelsk on Sunday.
"This is disgraceful. On the one hand we're victims, and on the other they kick us out. We don't disturb anyone," the newspaper quoted one of the gypsies as saying at the Moskovsky station. The gypsy declined to reveal his name to Novaya Gazeta.
Despite the killing taking place more than a week ago, the Tajik Embassy in Moscow was not aware of the fact.
"We don't have enough information on this matter, we will investigate it and then will work closely with the police," said Dzhurakhon Kurbanov, a Tajik Embassy spokesman, said Monday in a telephone interview from Moscow.
"I don't think it [the murder] should be taken as a sign that multinational relations are getting worse [here]. Each country has a mix of people and each country has its criminals," Kurbanov said. "The state, I think, is paying enough attention to this problem and if some officials [ignore it], that doesn't mean the situation looks like this as a whole."
Boris Pustyntsev, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Citizen's Watch, an international human rights organization, said the case appears to be the result of a new approach by authorities to the problem.
"The Tajik government will always toe the line so as not to confront Moscow," Pustyntsev said Monday in a telephone interview.
"When Boris Yeltsin was president, everybody knew that any extremist or a racist was an opponent of his regime," Pustyntsev said.
"These days, authorities play with them to get additional electorate," he said. "This is reflected in the restoration of Stalin's national anthem, for instance, which was sold as an attempt to consolidate society."
Nevertheless, Pustyntsev said it is positive sign that police in St. Petersburg have opened criminal cases over racially motivated attacks, not just on the grounds of hooliganism.
This happended last September after about 30 skinheads beat Mamed Mamedov, an Azeri melon trader, to death.
That case is going through the city courts, with suspects charged with murdering for racist reasons.
Another three skinheads were detained in February after they allegedly beat to death Atish Kumar Ramgoolam, 23, a Mauritian student at the Mechnikov State Medical Academy.
"If the police keep following such policies, we will definitely support them," Pustyntsev said.