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Police Detain 24 At Russian Rally For Murdered Activists

Slain human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov (right) and "Novaya Gazeta" reporter Anastasia Baburova
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Moscow police detained 24 people after an antifascist rally to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of a human rights lawyer and a journalist, a police spokesman said today.

The protesters, who blamed the murders on nationalists and called for a crackdown on far-right groups, said Russia risked becoming a police state. They drew a counterprotest by a small group shouting racist slogans.

Around 1,000 people gathered in minus 20 Celsius to lay wreaths on the street where Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova were killed near the Kremlin on January 19, 2009, in what a Moscow court blamed on nationalists.

But Moscow police then detained 24 protesters.

"These 24 people were detained after they tried to hold an illegal march. There was an agreement with the authorities for a rally, but after the rally they provoked police by trying to stage a march," the police spokesman said.

Watch: Police detain protesters at the antifascist rally.

Kremlin critics including chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov complained at the rally that Russians who confronted lawlessness were being attacked and that no one had been convicted for a string of murders of journalists and human rights activists.

Russia has been accused of doing too little to solve a series of such killings, including the 2006 murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who worked at the same newspaper as Baburova, "Novaya Gazeta."

In November, Yevgeniya Khasis and Nikita Tikhonov appeared in court for involvement in the murders of Markelov and Baburova. The murder was blamed by the Russian security service on "heavily armed nationalists."

All these murders are connected. All the people who die are hated by the authorities," said Kasparov.

"The people who confront lawlessness, who defend the rights of the Russian citizens, who are trying to defend our constitutional rights, become the victims of assault. Only through our joint efforts can we stop and avert this frightening tendency of Russia turning into a police state."

Other protesters called for the authorities to confront extreme nationalism.

"We organized this march to remember our friends who were killed and all those have suffered in Russia in the hands of neo-Nazis," said Alexander, a march organiser who did not want to give his full name.

"Sadly, xenophobia has increased since the breakup of the Soviet Union and we are scared," he said.

A group of about 50 men in balaclavas held a counterprotest chanting slogans like "forward with the Russian race."

"I am here because I want the pure Slavic race to continue. I want to tell all these guys who have blood from the East to go back to where they belong," said one young man, who said he worked in the security dept of an insurance company, but declined to be named.