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Communists Hail Soviet Army At Moscow Protest

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Hundreds of angry communists rallied in Moscow in protest at the Kremlin's handling of the crisis that has rocked the Russian economy.

Demonstrators used a public holiday honoring the armed forces to invoke the Soviet Army as a symbol of what they see as the country's former greatness in communist times.

About 750 mostly elderly people waved red flags and brandished images of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius as the national anthem of the Soviet Union played from loudspeakers.

The protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations held across Russia as the economic crisis bites. Although numbers have been relatively small, any sign of dissent alarms the Kremlin, which monitors public opinion closely.

"We are holding a rally support of the best traditions laid down by the Russian and Soviet armies. In the unity of these traditions lies the future of our national security," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said.

Police with dogs watched but did not intervene.

Soviet Captain and Afghan war veteran Boris Yeromenko referred to the economic turmoil in Russia, which has seen industrial production collapse by 20 percent in January and unemployment soar.

"With you or without you, we will restore the Soviet army.... We'll rebuild communism and socialism without crisis and internal wars," he said, directing his speech at President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Earlier, Medvedev placed a bouquet of red flowers on Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of the Defenders of the Fatherland Day holiday, which commemorates the Russian and Soviet army.

In a speech broadcast over the weekend to mark the holiday, Medvedev stressed Russia's commitment to its military.

"The country's security, the security of its citizens, must be firmly ensured," he said.

"[We] will continue to pay our greatest attention to strengthening our defense capabilities.... We are now living in a rather difficult world situation."

On February 21, about 350 people attended a rally organized by Russia's democratic opposition in the capital, demanding early presidential elections.

Kremlin officials dismiss opposition criticism as marginal and point to the high popularity ratings still enjoyed by Putin and Medvedev. Medvedev has criticized officials for not working fast enough to combat the crisis.