Hundreds join Moscow anti-Muslim rally

Hundreds of Russian nationalists staged a racism-tinged rally in central Moscow on Saturday to demand an end to social payments for Muslim republics of the volatile North Caucasus region.

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011, 23:42 PM IST

Moscow: Hundreds of Russian nationalists
staged a racism-tinged rally in central Moscow on Saturday to demand
an end to social payments for Muslim republics of the volatile
North Caucasus region.

The sanctioned gathering came amid spiking social
tensions and lingering security fears from a January suicide
bombing at the main Moscow airport that killed 37 people and
was claimed by the nation`s most feared Islamist warlord.

"We are tired of seeing the Caucasus youth creating
mayhem on our streets and at our schools and universities and
then going unpunished," rally co-organiser Alexander Khromov
told the Interfax news agency.

The event was officially titled "Stop Feeding the
Caucasus!" and included leaders from far-right organisations
that rights groups link to deadly attacks on migrants from
Russia`s Caucasus and the Central Asian republics.

Recent polls have shown a rise in Russian xenophobia and
a sense of voter frustration over the influx of mostly Muslim
newcomers to cities that are already creaking under the strain
of heavy crime and poorly-funded services.

Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin -- a former president who launched Russia`s
last war in the Caucasus in 1999 -- have condemned the racist
violence that now periodically erupts on the streets.

Medvedev has called it a matter of national security
while Putin met a top minister on Saturday to discuss a new
social development programme for Russia`s impoverished south.

But Moscow officials have sanctioned such events in the
past and the city`s mayor last month accused migrants of being
responsible for half of the capital`s crimes.

He has also instructed companies to give preferential
treatment to locals during hiring and unleashed a campaign to
shut down street stalls and open air markets that are often
operated by temporary and illegal workers.

The mayor`s office sanctioned Saturday`s event after
forbidding similar gatherings in defence of human rights -- a
move that sparked a rare round of criticism from pro-Kremlin
lawmakers.

"We have to try to stand up to such attempts to break up
the country," ruling party lawmaker Pavel Zyryanov told Moscow
Echo radio.

Today`s demonstrators were comprised mostly of Russian
youth wearing bomber jackets and hoods.

Several covered their faces with bandannas to hide their
identities from the police while many more raised their right
arms in Nazi-style salutes while chanting slogans in praise of
ethnic Russians.

"We are not xenophobes. We are not Nazis. We are
demanding equality for Russian regions," said rally
co-organiser Anton Nosov of the little-known Russia Civic
Union group.

PTI