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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
McCartney plays Red Square
Sir Paul McCartney
McCartney spoke to the crowd in Russian
Thousands of Russians have packed Red Square to see rock legend Sir Paul McCartney perform his first-ever concert in the former Soviet republic.

McCartney told the audience, "We have come here tonight to rock Red Square", before kicking off the show with the Beatles' classic All My Loving.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who earlier gave Sir Paul a personally-guided tour of the Kremlin, was among the audience.

The show marked the first time an ex-Beatle had played in the famous Moscow venue, after the band was prohibited from performing there by the former Soviet regime.

The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow says people in the audience wept and hugged each other and many called their less lucky friends on mobile phones to let them hear the concert.

McCartney, he says, mastered some Russian to tell the audience how great it was and how happy it made him.

Fans felt the same.

"I've waited my whole life for this," said Vladimir Snopov, 52, who had travelled 900 kilometres (550 miles) to be there.

Tickets for the concert changed hands for many times more than the average monthly Russian wage of about $100.

'Alien ideology'

Hours before the event, McCartney and his wife Heather took tea in the Kremlin with President Putin.
Heather Mills, McCartney and Putin
Putin took the McCartneys on a tour of the Kremlin

Mr Putin, who was a KGB agent when the Fab Four topped the charts around the world, admitted to his guest that The Beatles had been "a breath of fresh air" during Soviet times.

He said Beatles music "was considered propaganda of an alien ideology".

Mr Putin said that while Beatles' music was not banned by the Communist regime, "the fact that you were not allowed to play in Red Square in the 1980s says a lot."

McCartney said he gave President Putin a private performance of The Beatles' song Let It Be.

Asked about The Beatles' hit "Back in the USSR", McCartney said he did not know a lot about the former Soviet Union when he co-wrote the song with John Lennon.

"It was always a mystical land," he told reporters. "It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that's true."

There was, however, a reminder of past days, when a group of leftist and nationalist deputies in the Russian parliament tried to move McCartney's concert away from the Red Square, as too sacred a place for Western rock music.

The BBC's Christen Thomsen
"This concert was a symbol of the new Russia"

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