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Police Detain Demonstrators As Russians Mark National Unity Day


Russian Nationalists March On National Unity Day
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WATCH: Russian Nationalists March

Russian police have detained at least six protesters in Moscow at two small, state-sanctioned antigovernment rallies coinciding with celebrations of Russia's National Unity Day holiday, according to a monitoring group.

Three organizers of the nationalist rally held in Moscow's Lyublino district, on the city's southeastern outskirts, were also detained November 4, according to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.

Russian monarchists staged a separate demonstration in Shchukino, on the northwestern outskirts of the capital, during which a protester was detained.

Turnout at the two gathering was low, with less than 100 people attending each protest.

Authorities had permitted marches and rallies in 12 Russian cities, including St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, that were held on National Unity Day. The holiday was established by the Kremlin more than 10 years ago to replace communist-era celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution anniversary.

In Moscow, the nationalist rally took place under the slogan "Bread and Freedom to the Russian People" and the participants chanted slogans that included "Freedom to Political Prisoners" and "Russia Without [President Vladimir] Putin."

At a nationalist march in St. Petersburg’s Udelny Park police seemed to outnumber the protesters. Organizers said that they were prohibited from carrying banners reading slogans such as "Down With Dictatorship."

Ahead of the gathering, the organizers said that anyone "friendly to nationalists" was free to join the rally, except "leftist internationalists," communists, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, "representatives of pro-Kremlin organizations," and supporters of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.

1612 Battle

In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, a few dozen people joined a nationalist march on Victory Street that lasted only half an hour.

A pro-government rally was held in the city center at the same time, with the participants carrying portraits of Putin, according to Yekaterinburg Online website.

Putin, Patriarch Kirill Lay Flowers On National Unity Day
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WATCH: Putin, Patriarch Kirill Lay Flowers On National Unity Day

In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, up to 20 people took part in a nationalist rally.

National Unity Day is a national holiday created by Putin in 2005 to celebrate a Russian victory over Polish forces in 1612. It took the place of Soviet-era commemorations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which are held on November 7.

At a November 4 event in Moscow, Putin called on Russians to stick together and described patriotism as “an important part of our national culture, the core of our genetic memory."

Putin and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, laid flowers at a monument on Red Square to remember those who fought in the 1612 battle.

Putin has used the holiday to promote patriotism and seek to consolidate society and strengthen the Kremlin’s grip on a vast, diverse country.

But celebrations in recent years have been marred by antigovernment rallies and scuffles between protesters and riot police.

Last year, authorities detained over 70 demonstrators after nationalists gathered in Lyublino for an antigovernment rally.

While Putin has promoted a patriotic brand of nationalism, the Kremlin is wary of hard-line ethnic Russian or Slavic nationalists, many of whom are disenchanted with his leadership.

The government has prevented them from marching in central Moscow in recent years.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Petr Kubalek in Prague
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