Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Far-right protesters take to streets across Russia


Police moved to block thousands of ultranationalist demonstrators rallying in Russian streets, arresting hundreds who gathered in defiance of a ban on far-right demonstrations.

A main organizer of the demonstrations, Alexander Belov, said rallies attracting thousands had taken place on Saturday in more than 20 cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar in southern Russia, Blagoveshchensk in the Russian Far East and the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

He said police also detained activists in Novosibirsk and sought to block the marchers in a number of other cities.

The decision by authorities in the Russian capital and other cities to prevent the far-right supporters from marching, and the subsequent police response, appeared to mark an effort to dispel accusations that the government is doing little to combat rising xenophobia in Russia.

Russia has seen an increase in hate crimes against dark-skinned foreigners, Jews and immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus. This year, 39 people have been killed in apparent hate crimes and a further 308 attacked, according to the Sova rights center.

A year after security forces failed to intervene as marchers gave the Nazi salute and cried "Heil Hitler," Moscow police enforced a ban on marches and carted away demonstrators. The demonstrations were timed to coincide with a Russian national holiday newly created last year.

Rights activists said on Saturday that authorities still needed to do more.

Police in one Moscow street encircled groups of young men and hauled them off into buses, said Lidia Mikhailova, a spokeswoman for Dmitry Rogozin, a nationalist politician who had been involved in organizing the event.

Mikhailova said that she had seen dozens detained in this way and, citing other witnesses, estimated that several hundred people were taken into police custody.

Interfax news agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying that police detained more than 200 activists. A police desk officer in Moscow, who did not give his name, denied there were arrests.

Several hundred police, some wearing black helmets and carrying truncheons, surrounded a central square where up to 2,000 people rallied near a Russian Orthodox convent. Demonstrators waved flags from radical parties while some held religious icons.

Triumphant music played over loudspeakers. At one point, many in the crowd stretched out their hands in a Nazi-type salute.

Demonstrators complained of the presence in Russia of dark-skinned migrants from other former Soviet republics, whom they derisively refer to as "blacks."

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