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Russians Celebrate 'Defenders Of The Fatherland' Day --> President Vladimir Putin takes part in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow today (epa) 23 February 2006 -- Russians today marked Defenders of the Fatherland Day, a public holiday to honor war veterans and the country's armed forces.

President Vladimir Putin and other officials laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin.

Some 3,000 communists led by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov marched in Moscow. Several other leftist and veterans' organizations held separate rallies to mark the holiday.

Ceremonies and military parades were held in a number of cities across Russia.

Russia has been honoring the armed forces on 23 February since 1923, when the date was marked as Red Army Day.

In Chechnya today, people remembered the victims of Stalin's massive deportations of Chechens 62 years ago.

In February 1944, more than 500,000 Chechens and Ingush were deported into Central Asia on orders of Josef Stalin. Tens of thousands died on their way into exile.

Reports said prayers will be held in mosques across Chechnya but no official events have been scheduled in the capital Grozny.

(ITAR-TASS, Interfax)

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