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Moscow's famous pet market closes

MOSCOW, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Moscow's fabled pet market, where virtually any creature -- from the humble cat and dog to the exotic chimpanzee and parakeet -- could be bought, was closed down by Russian police on Saturday.

The gates to the market in eastern Moscow were welded shut and its stands, normally teeming with caged or tethered wild life of every description, were deserted after police moved on traders.

City officials said this was the definitive closure of the Stalin-era market which, in the post-communist period, has thrived on selling exotic birds, reptiles and other creatures to increasingly wealthy Russians with a taste for the extravagant.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has said the market, known as the "bird market" in Russian, fails to meet sanitary norms and has offered an alternative site far from the city centre.

"This market no longer serves its historical purpose," city official Sergei Grachennikov told NTV television. "It has been turned into a rubbish bin."

Distraught traders disagreed with the closure order

"This is a mockery," Tamara, a woman in her fifties cuddling a pair of Chihuahuas, told Reuters Television. "People have come for years -- for a free zoo and for free advice on pets."

Television footage showed riot police bundling away traders who resisted the order to disperse from the site, in use since Josef Stalin's rule in the 1930s. Dozens of traders, many with animals stuffed into thick sweaters, remained on the street seeking out customers for several hours before dispersing.

Three previous attempts to close the market, backed by court action, failed to stop trading. But Interfax news agency quoted a city official as saying that the market was now shut for good.

Anatoly, a longstanding resident, welcomed the closure.

"This market should have shut a long time ago," he told Reuters Television. "Kittens have their throats cut in our very stairwells and our children are there to see all the blood."

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