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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 12:11 GMT
Thousands join pro-Kremlin rally
Members of the pro-Kremlin youth movement demonstrate in Moscow
The rallies come 15 months before the next presidential election
Tens of thousands of members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi rallied in the Russian capital, Moscow, to wish World War II veterans a happy new year.

Police and the security service were deployed although the atmosphere was relaxed, with many participants dressed as Dyet Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus.

It follows Saturday's demonstration by opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

They were protesting against what they see as the increasing authoritarianism of the leadership.

Organisers had hoped up to 5,000 people would attend Saturday's opposition rally. Some witnesses said their numbers were dwarfed by the police and security service presence.

The demonstrations come 15 months before the next presidential election.

Although Mr Putin is not eligible to stand, analysts believe his popularity is such that whoever he backs is assured of an easy victory.

The Russian opposition has long been wracked by internal divisions, the BBC regional analyst Stephen Eke says.

But he adds that with parliamentary elections due next year, and presidential elections due early in 2008, they have begun to co-ordinate their efforts.




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