Moscow police arrest hundreds ahead of nationalist rallies

MOSCOW — Russian police arrested some 1,300 people Saturday in Moscow city and the region in a bid to prevent gatherings of Russian nationalists and Caucasians which have already sparked deadly violence.

“The police prevented several attempted non-authorised gatherings in the Moscow region,” regional police spokesman Evgeny Gildeev was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.

“As part of these preventative measures to ensure public order, 808 people have been detained in police stations,” he said, without specifying whether the people were nationalists or Caucasians.

In the city of Moscow, some 500 right-wingers marched in a park near the Ostankino television headquarters shouting slogans such as “Russia for the Russians,” an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

Hundreds of riot police descended on the park, after Internet messages called for a rally at Ostankino to protest at media coverage which had described the right-wingers as “fascists”.

There were no confrontations with police, the AFP photographer said.

“Nearly all the participants (in the march) were arrested,” city police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told Russian news agencies. He added that most of some 500 people arrested in Moscow were minors.

Questioned about the number of teenagers taking part in the far-right rallies, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Russian television that he thought it was a “disturbing sign”, that it was necessary to “work with the youth”, saying that they were not “a lost generation”.

On December 11 thousands of extreme-rightists and football supporters battled police near the Kremlin, where they had gathered to protest after a supporter was killed in a fight with Caucasians from Muslim southern Russia.

Moscow’s mayor had raised the city’s alert level Friday as police vowed to move against any gatherings with force.

A sharp spike in racial violence this month has seen almost daily reports of attacks against ethnic minorities by small groups of young men.

Media reports said the latest round of Moscow violence involved the deadly knifing of an Uzbek man by three assailants and the brutal beating of a Vietnamese man in the industrial outskirts of the city.

The suspects include two boys aged just 14 and 15. Police said the man probably died at the hands of the younger and that none of the suspects was older than 23.

Recent opinion polls have shown that Muscovites are growing increasingly anxious about the number of non-ethnic Russians in the city — a xenophobia that underscores the fragile coexistence of the country’s Slavic majority and its 160 smaller ethnic groups.

These tensions boiled over this month with the December 4 shooting of the soccer supporter suspected to have been carried out by a Muslim.

The police detained 1,000 people across the country on Wednesday in a bid to stave off an ethnic clash that was being planned through the Internet.

Putin has vowed to “respond severely” to the violence and the Moscow mayor issued an order Friday putting more police on the streets.

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