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Russians Celebrating New National Holiday

The 3 November rehearsal for a military parade on Red Square on 7 November (AFP) 4 November 2005 --   Russia is celebrating People's Unity Day for the first time today.

The initiators of the holiday were the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and of the country's other main religious confessions. It was signed into law last year by President Vladimir Putin.

National Unity Day honors Moscow's liberation from Polish invaders in 1612, replacing a holiday that traditionally marked the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

But correspondents say the new holiday has raised political controversy and public discord. Some historians have raised doubts about the 4 November date, while critics denounced the scrapping of the 7 November Revolution Day, which after the fall of the Soviet Union was renamed Accord and Reconciliation Day.

Patriarch Aleksii II led celebrations today in the historic Russian city of Nizhnii Novgorod, where the popular militias that in 1612 drove the occupiers out of Moscow began their counterattack.