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Russian Nationalists Mark Unity Day With Rallies


Russian Nationalists Mark Unity Day With Rallies
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WATCH: Nationalists march in Moscow and St. Petersburg

MOSCOW -- Police in the Russian capital say some 6,000 people have participated in a march of nationalists to mark the National Unity Day holiday, one of dozens of similar events across the country.

The rallies -- both sanctioned and unsanctioned -- were being held under the title "Russian March."

Organizers of the sanctioned rally in Moscow claimed that as many as 20,000 people participated in that event.

Some 25 marchers were reportedly detained in the capital for wearing banned Nazi insignias, and police reported that some marchers set of fireworks, flares, and smoke bombs.

It was the first time the authorities allowed the march to proceed in the center of Moscow.

"They only hear us when there are a lot of us, when we take to the streets," one of the organizers of the Moscow rally, Vladimir Tor, said of President Vladimir Putin's government. "Unfortunately, our democratic system is ruined. The country lacks democratic institutions. The [Central Election Commission] has become a band of falsifiers and consequently the president and the Duma are only conditionally legitimate. This is a very hard situation. At this time, Russian people need to unite and create their own civil society institutions, parallel to democratic institutions."

Tor also repeated the nationalists' call for restricting immigration from Central Asia.

"We demand that the wave of immigration from Central Asia is stopped," Tor said. "It's essential to implement a visa regime with the countries of Central Asia and to halt heroin traffic and other opiate traffic from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and other Central Asian countries."

Prominent anti-Kremlin blogger and leading opposition voice Aleksei Navalny had announced that he would participate in the Moscow demonstration, but illness reportedly prevented him from attending. In the past, Navalny has called on the Kremlin to "stop feeding the Caucasus," particularly Chechnya.

In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, some 200 marchers were detained at an unsanctioned rally.

Other arrests were reported at an event in Novokuznetsk.

Some 50 people were detained for conducting an unsanctioned rally in the Tatarstan capital, Kazan.

About 100 people marched in a sanctioned march in Pskov under slogans such as "Russian Power To Russia" and "The Future Belongs To Us."

More than 40 people were reportedly detained in Nizhny Novgorod during an unsanctioned march there. And more than 30 were detained in St. Petersburg as they tried to march down the city's main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt.

Also in St. Petersburg, about 10 people were arrested for attempting to hand out Russian imperial flags at a demonstration organized by the ruling United Russia party.

The National Unity Day holiday commemorates the expulsion in 1612 of Polish invaders from Moscow. The holiday was canceled during the Communist era but restored under Putin in 2005.

Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the holiday by placing a wreath at a Moscow monument. He later praised the holiday at a Kremlin reception.

"This is our youngest national festival. However, it reaches back as far as centuries ago and the events that played a decisive role in the history of Russia," Putin said. "Four hundred years ago, the Time of Troubles and the weakness of the state was finally put to rest. Any other outcome would have threatened Russia's very independence."

The ruling United Russia party was holding events in many cities with the participation of local authorities.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill led a service in a cathedral in Moscow's Kremlin.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, dpa, Reuters, and Interfax

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