Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Clashes as Russia marks unity day

A demonstration in Moscow. Photo: 4 November 2008
Ultra-nationalists demanded a crackdown on illegal immigrants

Clashes have broken out across Russia on National Unity Day, after ultra-nationalists defied official bans on holding marches.

In Moscow, police arrested at least 200 people, some of whom gave a Nazi salute as they tried to rally in the capital.

Arrests were also made in St Petersburg and several major cities in Siberia and the Far East, Russian media report.

On Monday, seven people were hurt when local youths fought migrants from the Caucasus near Moscow, police said.

I'm here because this is the only festival in which you can declare your Russianness
Alexei Ogloblin
Moscow demonstrator

Seventeen people were also held in the town of Solnechnogorsk and police confiscated stun guns, knives and bats, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Thousands of people across Russia on Tuesday took part in peaceful demonstrations that were permitted by the authorities.

At least 8,000 people - mostly pro-Kremlin activists - held a rally in Moscow, officials said.

"I'm here because this is the only festival in which you can declare your Russianness. It's necessary to do this so as not to lose one's identity," Alexei Ogloblin told the AFP news agency.

Demonstrators in the capital are also planning to make a huge "peace blanket" from materials brought to the capital by representatives of nearly 20 Russian regions.

Racist attacks

The Kremlin introduced the National Unity Day in 2005 to replace the holiday marking the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. It commemorates Moscow's expulsion of Polish invaders in 1612.

But human rights groups have criticised the new holiday, saying it acts as a catalyst for the many racist organisations active in Russia.

The Moscow Human Rights Bureau has said that more than 100 people - mainly workers from the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - have died as a result of racist attacks in Russia this year.

Despite Russia's much improved economy and better living standards, xenophobic sentiments remain deeply rooted, the BBC's Russian affairs analyst Steven Eke says.

They are often reflected in openly expressed contempt for dark-skinned people, our correspondent says.

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