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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rally Pulls 20, 000 in Opposition To Yeltsin

About 20, 000 pro-Communist demonstrators marched to Manezh Square on Tuesday, in a protest to mark Defense of the Fatherland Day and to attack the policies of President Boris Yeltsin.

Red flags of the former Soviet Union and the gold and black banners of the rightist Liberal Democratic Party colored the crowds of protesters who moved down Moscow's Ulitsa Tverskaya to the walls of the Kremlin.

"Yeltsin has destroyed our great Russia", and "Yeltsin has destroyed our army", the crowd shouted, in one of the larger pro-Communist demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a year ago.

The protestors, who consisted mainly of older Russians and included many war veterans, voiced growing popular discontent with Yeltsin's government and his market reform policies.

The demonstrators chose Defense of the Fatherland Day - the new name for Soviet Army and Navy Day - to launch their protest at what they see as the loss of both an empire and a military machine feared by the world.

"Of all our country we in the military suffered most, because we fought to defend our fatherland only to see it destroyed", said Colonel Valentin Svetkov.

The march was attended by three of the former Soviet officials who have been accused of plotting to seize power during the August coup of 1991. They have been released pending their trial, which is scheduled for April 14.

Earlier in the day. Vice President Alexander Rutskoi laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The former pilot and Afghan war hero took Yeltsin's place in the ceremony, because the president is on vacation.

The president signed a decree, however, increasing benefits for servicemen and ensuring that pensions for them and their families keep pace with rising inflation, his office announced.

Both Yeltsin and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev chose the military's memorial day to warn against using the army for political ends.

"Somebody", namely the hardline element in Russian politics, is "trying to play an army card", Yeltsin said in a newspaper interview on Monday.

On Monday night Grachev lashed out at widespread corruption inside the military in a television interview, according to Reuters.

Grachev said that 3, 000 officers, including two regional commanders, had been disciplined for indulging in illicit commerce. Forty-six generals and other officers faced prosecution, he added.

Grachev also attacked the hardline Union of Officers, which took part in the demonstration in opposition to Yeltsin's policies. Referring to the group, the defense minister said that "any attempts to draw the armed forces into the political struggle are criminal and fraught with danger".

But for most Russian veterans the day was less a political event than a moment to remember the more than 20 million Soviet citizens who died during World War II.

Veterans and their wives or widows carried homemade banners from the Bolshoi Theater to the tomb to the sounds of marching bands. Many blinked away tears as they filed slowly past the tomb to lay wreaths and flowers at the grave.

The day used to be called Soviet Army and Naval Fleet Day, but veterans did not seem perturbed by the change of name.

"When we joined the army", said one man, "it was called the Peasant's and Worker's Army. Then it was the Red Army, the Soviet Army. Now it's the Russian Army. But the goal is still the same, and the day is still about the same thing-serving the motherland".

The motherland he served has shrunk.

One veteran bitterly blamed Mikhail Gorbachev for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "He destroyed our country, our army", he said.

Unofficially, Feb. 23 has been better known as Men's Day.