Russia: Gas debts douse eternal flame

Ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the end of the Second World War The flame goes out

A gas company in Murmansk, the major port in Russia's Arctic north, has enraged locals by extinguishing the eternal flame to the memory of the fallen of World War II.

Veterans and local dignitaries were stunned when the flame at the city's war memorial suddenly went out in the middle of a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the end of the war, the Lenta news website reports. Regional gas monopoly Murmanoblgaz readily admitted that low pressure in the pipes was to blame, and the flame was re-lit two hours later, but the PR damage was done.

The firm had acted with "blatant slovenliness, an utter lack of responsibility and impermissible neglect", regional governor Marina Kovtun fumed. The chairman of the regional assembly, Vasily Shambir, told Murmansk TV that he had been "too ashamed to look the veterans in the eye".

Murmanoblgaz director Alexander Chernenko said the company "ran out of gas" because customers had failed to pay bills to the tune of 77 million roubles ($2.3m; £1.5m). But the authorities seem unmoved - Chernenko is reported to have lost his job some days after the incident.

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