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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rival Factions Gather for Victory Day Rallies

Russia's political forces staged rival celebrations in Moscow of Victory Day on Thursday, with an official military parade at Red Square reviewed by President Boris Yeltsin in the morning giving way to a rally and march in central Moscow led by communist Gennady Zyuganov.

The Kremlin's official commemoration of the 51st anniversary of victory over fascist Germany was held early in the morning to allow Yeltsin time to attend a second parade in the city of Volgograd.

More than 7,000 armed soldiers, sailors and cadets marched across Red Square, carrying the red "Victory Banner" that Soviet troops hoisted over the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945. The parade was closed to the public, however, except for a select group of veterans.

In a scene harking back to the Soviet period, Yeltsin watched from atop Lenin's mausoleum, where Politburo leaders traditionally stood for displays of Soviet military might. Yeltsin has until now avoided using the podium.

In a 10-minute address, which was televised nationwide, Yeltsin hailed the Red Army's victory. The troops were also reviewed by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who drove past the ranks in an open silver ZiL limousine.

The opposition rally was already forming even as the official parade broke up. Trucks carrying soldiers away from the parade in Red Square in the morning passed supporters of Zyuganov's "popular patriotic" movement who were gathering near Belorussky Station. When the demonstrators waved red Soviet flags at the first dozen trucks, the soldiers waved back and cheered loudly.

The mass opposition march, organized by Working Russia, the radical communist organization led by Viktor Anpilov, started at 11 a.m., about an hour after the official parade. Interfax quoted the Moscow police as saying that the opposition events drew 30,000 to 50,000 people and organizers claimed a half million people took part. Both estimates appeared to be exaggerations.

The march was led down Tverskaya Ulitsa by medal-bedecked military veterans holding a banner of the Union of Officers, followed by a contingent holding a banner of Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation, or KPRF.

Portraits of Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, placards reading "Yankee Go Home!" "Judaism -- Hebrew Fascism" and signs denouncing the International Monetary Fund and NATO reflected the crowds' diverse political message.

Most of the marchers were middle-aged to elderly, but the crowd did include small contingents from communist youth groups, some of them dressed in camouflage, and even a group of long-haired youths with a guitar and a Soviet flag.

The pro-Zyuganov demonstrators left Belorussky Station, marched down Tverskaya Ulitsa and then on to Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, where a podium had been set up in front of the building of the former KGB, which now houses the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Speakers who gathered on the podium included General Vladislav Achalov, who was named "defense minister" by the rebels holed up in the Russian White House during the September-October 1993 crisis, and a number of war veterans who are officials in the KPRF, the Union of Officers and other "national patriotic" organizations.

Zyuganov, who joined the march halfway through, gave the main speech at the Lubyanka rally, using the crowd as an example of his wide support in the upcoming presidential poll. "All opposition forces have united. The popular patriotic bloc includes over 200 Communist and patriotic organizations, we have Russia's farmers, youth and wtudents supporting us," Zyuganov said.

Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky also held his own Victory Day commemoration in Moscow which drew a modest crowd on Belorusskaya Ploshchad later Thursday afternoon.

Speaking to group of only 200 to 300 people, presidential hopeful and Liberal Democratic Party leader Zhirinovsky called himself the "most democratic candidate" and warned that an election victory by either Yeltsin or Zyuganov would plunge Russia into a period of "darkness" and civil war.