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Russian political forces hold May Day marches, rallies

Russian political forces hold May Day marches, rallies

Hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets Tuesday as an array of political forces held marches and rallies on May Day, a holiday that was of great importance in the Soviet era and is still marked with demonstrations in cities nationwide.
In Moscow, separate demonstrations were held by loyal supporters of President Vladimir Putin, his beleaguered liberal opponents, Communists carrying red flags and extreme nationalists testing the growing popularity of their chauvinist views.
The largest gathering _ estimated by police at 20,000 _ appeared to be a march and rally in Moscow led by the pro-Putin United Russia party and the government-approved trade union organization, a sign of the Kremlin's dominance of politics and society.
But thousands also turned out for a Communist Party demonstration, carrying red flags and marching from a square adorned by a statue of Bolshevik Revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin to one that features a bust of Karl Marx. Police put their number at more than 5,000.
Demonstrators chanted "Russia without Putin!" and assailed the government's social policies, calling for a Soviet-style safety net. "I want to be paid a decent pension, I'd like normal medicine and everything we had under socialism," said Lyudmila, a demonstrator who would not give her last name.
Several hundred Kremlin critics and human rights activists participated in a march organized by the liberal opposition party Yabloko near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the main successor of the Soviet KGB.
Marchers held a big banner reading: "Civil society against the police state."
Demonstrators shouted, "Freedom for Russians." One woman in the crowd held a portrait of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist and critic of the Kremlin who exposed rights abuses and was fatally shot last September.
Law enforcement authorities sent thousands of officers into the streets and mounted a large presence for the Yabloko demonstration, which followed harsh police crackdowns on opposition demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg last month, but no violence occurred.
Ultranationalists who oppose immigration and preach ethnic Russian supremacy drew at least several hundred people to a rally in northern Moscow. Demonstrators held banners with symbols evoking swastikas, made stiff-arm salutes and chanted slogans such as, "Russia is only for Russians."
Putin and other Russian officials often speak of the dangers of growing extremism, but their liberal critics say the government goes easy on racists while perceiving its political opponents as extremists.
Separate rallies were also held by flamboyant politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Just Russia, a new party led by Putin supporter Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper parliament house, Russian media reported.
During the Soviet era, the government held a massive parade on Red Square every year on May Day, an international holiday celebrating workers.
Following the 1991 Soviet collapse, Communists mounted major anti-government demonstrations on May Day, but their numbers have dwindled in recent years. United Russia, meanwhile, has used its influence to bring out large crowds.
Marches and demonstrations were held in cities across Russia _ state-run television said a total of about 1.5 million people took part nationwide _ and political leaders may have been using the Moscow rallies to gauge support and make their voices heard as December parliamentary elections draw closer.
Many Russians, however, ignored politics during the long May Day weekend, taking advantage of the holiday to spend time with family and friends and to catch up on household chores or garden work.


Updated : 2021-03-04 11:05 GMT+08:00