Thousands of radical Russian nationalists staged a protest they called the "Russian March" in downtown Moscow on Sunday, the first time in four years that they had brought their extremist views and slogans into the heart of the Russian capital.
March organizers said that 20,000 people took part, although police put participation at 6,000, displaying ultra-nationalist symbols and posters and chanting slogans in central Moscow, but no incidents occurred as they moved toward the site of their scheduled rally, historic Gorky Park.
"Today we are 20,000, but soon we'll be 100,000, and after that a million," said one of the organizers of the controversial march - the leader of the so-called "Russians" movement, Alexandr Belov - from the stage, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.
The nationalists in recent years have joined almost all demonstrations against the Kremlin and, over the past year, have marched through many Russian cities demanding that articles in the Penal Code persecuting extremists be nullified and the Russian ethnicity be defined in the constitution as the people who comprise the state. They also want to introduce visas for immigrants coming from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Some civil organizations and human rights groups denounced the organizers of the event for displaying posters and chanting slogans with extremist content.
"We know that marching in the column (of demonstrators) were people with swastikas. Xenophobic, nationalist and anti-immigration statements were heard," said Alexandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau.
Shortly before the start of the march, Moscow police arrested 25 young people who were getting ready to join the demonstration wearing black uniforms bearing the Nazi swastika. EFE