Moscow: Hundreds of people protested against the Russian government on Sunday at two separate rallies in Moscow, with opposition activists calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and nationalists demanding greater rights for ethnic Russians. Several opposition activists were detained.
A third rally with nationalist overtones drew more than 1,000 students in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, raising fears that long-standing ethnic tensions were reaching a boiling point.
The rallies followed violent clashes on Saturday just outside the Kremlin walls between riot police and about 5,000 football fans and nationalists, who shouted "Russia for Russians”. Police said 34 people were injured; six of them were still hospitalised on Sunday. All 65 people detained during the clashes have been released.
The police crackdown further angered Slavic Russians who resent the growing presence of dark-complexioned people from Russia`s predominantly Muslim republics in the Caucasus.
Dozens of nationalists picketed on Sunday at the Federal Security Service headquarters to protest what they described as discrimination against Russians in favour of ethnic minorities.
"Today, all the (democratic) instruments have been trampled upon by the authorities, which means, if they don`t want to use a civilised language, they will have to face, whether they want to or not, the Spartak (football club) rebellion, the crowds," said Vladlen Kralin, a nationalist leader who goes by the name Vladimir Tor.
Saturday`s clash grew out of a rally held elsewhere in the city to protest the death last week of Yegor Svidorov, a member of the Spartak team`s fan organisation, who was shot with rubber bullets in a fight at a bus stop. Those suspected of killing him are from the Caucasus.
The demonstration appeared to have inspired students in Rostov-on-Don, where 18-year-old Maxim Sychyov died last month after being beaten up by fellow university students from the nearby Caucasus.
More than 1,000 students gathered at his dormitory Sunday to light candles in his memory and then marched along the central avenue shouting "Go, Russians" and "Russians are united”. They called on university and city authorities to clamp down on students from the Caucasus.
The students, who were accompanied by police and Cossacks, dispersed peacefully.
The outburst of nationalism gave new ammunition to opposition leaders in Moscow, who drew several hundred people to a previously planned rally on a central square. They demanded Putin`s resignation, saying his policies had aggravated ethnic tensions.
"A conflict based on national enmity, which is apparent now, means disintegration of our multiethnic country," said opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. "If we start beating one another and spill blood, we`ll be left without a country."
Several activists were detained after leading a group of protesters to City Hall.