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Environmentalists Want Russian Paper Mill Closed

Activists called on President Dmitry Medvedev to reverse Putin's move to restart production at Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill 15 months after it closed due to pollution concerns.

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday defended his decision to reopen a paper mill on the shores of the world's largest freshwater lake, which drew strong criticism from environmentalists.

Activists have called on President Dmitry Medvedev to reverse Putin's move to restart production at the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill -- 15 months after it closed because of pollution concerns.

Environmentalists say the mill threatens the lake's estimated 1,500 unique species of plants and animals.

In his Monday address to the Russian Geographical Society, Putin called for calm.

"We should look at this issue carefully, without any whining or noise, but from a viewpoint of the state," he said. "You know how much we care about Baikal."

Putin gave the restart order in January, stressing the employment of the mill's 1,500 employees in the eastern Siberia town of Baikalsk superseded ecological concerns.

City authorities in Baikalsk and the plant's management earlier admitted that the restart was just a temporary measure to buy time to work up a comprehensive employment plan for the town of 14,000.

Putin also quoted unnamed scientists who had told him during a Baikal visit last summer that the plant's operations had not harmed the lake, but admitted that "does not mean that there are no problems" there. He urged environmentalists and international organizations to join Russia's research efforts to study and protect Baikal.

Lake Baikal contains more fresh water than United States' Great Lakes combined.

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