Moscow: Police detained more than 1,000 youths in Moscow and other cities in a national security sweep aimed at staving off ethnic riots from erupting following the deadly shooting of a football fan by a Muslim suspect.
A news agency’s reporters at central Moscow`s Kievsky train station -- the site at which the main clash was reportedly being scheduled through the Internet -- saw dozens of youths and girls as young as 13 being led away in handcuffs by helmeted riot police.
The black-jacketed youths chanted "Russia for Russians!" and raised their right arms in Nazi salutes as the arrests continued throughout the expansive central Moscow square deep into the night.
Police said the city-wide operation involved 3,000 officers and resulted in the official booking of more than 800 people and seizure of everything from stun guns to knives and other small arms.
The police also sealed off portions of Red Square and checked the documents of tens of thousands of people as they rushed through major commute points with holiday shopping bags and children in tow.
"Do I look like a thug to you," one elderly man who left his papers at home shouted at the television cameras as he was led away handcuffed by the police.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin huddled with his most senior security officers in a bid to organise a response to the sudden security crisis as small fights flared across the city centre despite the overwhelming presence of the police.
"The police will continue to crack down against any attempts at provocation and violence," the mayor told state television after the meeting.
Similar incidents were also reported in Russia`s second city of Saint Petersburg as organised members of the far right descended on a major square in the heart of the city amid modern shops and busy metro stations.
The police there made more than 60 arrests while Interfax reported another 100 detentions in the Volga region city of Samara.
Rumours of Wednesday`s clashes spread across the Russian Internet following a weekend riot outside the Kremlin involving some 5,000 football fans and elements of the far right.
Saturday`s unsanctioned rally was called to protest the police`s handling of the suspected shooting of a Moscow football fan by youths from the violence-wracked North Caucasus.
Gangs of Muslims were reported to be planning a counter-rally at Kievsky and a major Russian nationalist movement called on its supporters to come armed to the site.
"Trust only yourself and those close to you," a Twitter feed used by Russia`s far right instructed its followers as the hour of the big street battle approached.
"Do not panic and remove your women, children and the elderly from the streets," the message added. "Victory is ours!"
Saturday`s racism-tinged demonstration and ensuing tensions have exposed the many problems confronting Russia one week after it was awarded the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that such riots threatened "the stability of the state".
Resentment has been rising in Moscow about the number of people from Russia`s south and the Central Asian republics working in the city`s open-air markets and construction sites.
The city administration has been under pressure to limit the number of migrants and give these jobs to ethnic Russians -- despite the miserly wages involved.
Medvedev unexpectedly added his voice to the debate by urging the country`s trade unions to make sure that the hiring of outsiders "does not hurt our citizens".