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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Praises Moscow, Students

As downtown Moscow turned into a giant pedestrian party zone this weekend, President Vladimir Putin congratulated Muscovites on the "double holiday" of the capital's 854th birthday and the traditionally festive start of the school year.

"It is a truly lucky coincidence that Sept. 1 [the traditional first day of classes, now dubbed the Day of Knowledge] and City Day are being celebrated on the same day," Putin said in televised remarks Saturday as he helped kick off Moscow's weekend-long celebration.

The president applauded the capital and its leadership and used the occasion to reiterate his support for market reforms.

"Moscow proves in the best possible way that a market economy must and can work effectively in the interests of the people," Interfax quoted Putin as saying at the afternoon ceremony on Tverskaya Ploshchad.

The president openly praised Mayor Yury Luzhkov, thanking him and saying Moscow "has been lucky with Yurys" ? referring both to Luzhkov, the city's mayor of the past 10 years, and his namesake Yury Dolgoruky, the medieval prince credited with founding Moscow in 1147.

Putin, himself a native of St. Petersburg, acknowledged in his speech that Moscow ? disproportionately privileged throughout the Soviet era and still a magnet for the country's money and resources ? elicits "a diverse spectrum of emotion in the country's other cities."

Nonetheless, he said, Russians can be proud of their capital: "The best and most talented people have always converged on Moscow."

Ahead of the ceremony, which was attended by Luzhkov and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II and featured a theatrical show involving 1,500 performers, Putin addressed Moscow students on the occasion of Sept. 1, the start of a new school year.

Though classes were postponed until Monday, all schools and most colleges held special ceremonies to welcome new first-year students.

In a welcoming speech to students at Moscow State Pedagogical University, Putin hailed the government's draft budget for 2002, in which funding for education exceeds military spending. Last week, Putin identified education as a state priority.

"Nothing is possible ? not building a democratic society, not creating a market economy ? nothing is possible without educated people," he said in televised excerpts of the speech.

"We have to be honest: The state has not been giving enough attention to education in recent years," Putin said, repeating plans announced last week to double teachers' salaries by year's end. The president left Sunday for an official visit to Finland. (See story, Page 5.)

Both Saturday and Sunday, as students enjoyed their last days of summer freedom, the city was celebrating its birthday with parades, outdoor concerts and athletic competitions, including a relay race along the outer ring road.

According to police statistics, more than 800,000 people showed up Saturday in downtown Moscow alone, flooding major squares like Tverskaya, Pushkin, Teatralnaya and Lubyanka, where the main festivities were held. Traffic was closed off at the major event sites.

To ensure fine weather during Luzhkov's trademark extravaganza, the city arranged for cloud seeding over the weekend, Interfax reported.

Police reported that some 120 people were detained on the first day of celebrations for petty hooliganism and public drunkenness, as 7,500 police officers were deployed to ensure public order, Interfax said Sunday. The sale of alcoholic beverages in glass containers was banned downtown during the festivities.

The busiest man in Moscow this weekend certainly seemed to be Luzhkov. Running from event to event, the mayor managed to unveil a renovated footbridge near Kievsky Station, a new city square, a sculptural ensemble and a major highway interchange.

Saturday's celebrations culminated with a 25-minute fireworks-and-laser show over the Moscow River. The display lit up the sky from aboard a tugboat docked in front of the Rossia Hotel while a specialized firefighting boat operated jets of green laser-lit water.

Various concerts filled Pushkin, Teatralnaya, Lubyanskaya and Tverskaya squares with music for most of Saturday and Sunday.

The centerpiece of Sunday's celebrations was the unveiling of a 15-piece sculptural composition by ?migr? artist Mikhail Shemyakin on Bolotnaya Ploshchad.

The artist's first work to appear in Moscow, the monument ? called "Children, Victims of Adults' Sins" ? depicts the figures of two blindfolded children, a boy and a girl, surrounded by 13 statues symbolizing dangerous vices such as ignorance, indifference and drunkenness.