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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazan Set for 1,000th Birthday

Itar-TassShaimiyev dancing at the Kazan gala on Thursday as Matviyenko watches.
KAZAN -- Tatarstan's capital made last-minute finishing touches and security sweeps Thursday as organizers prepared for the tens of thousands expected to take part in Kazan's millennial birthday celebrations.

With technicians rigging a sound stage against the backdrop of the picturesque Qol Sharif mosque, city dignitaries held flower-laying ceremonies at statues to Russian and Tatar cultural figures around the Volga River city as part of the festivities.

Among the officials expected to attend is President Vladimir Putin, who is also using the occasion to play host to leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In addition to sprucing up the city, officials were taking exceptional security measures. Workers welded shut manhole covers, bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers prowled the airport, and traffic police stood on nearly every street corner.

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko attended the opening of Peterburgskaya Ulitsa on Thursday. A gala concert is scheduled for Friday night, and the rock band Scorpions will perform Monday.

The anniversary gives Shaimiyev a chance to showcase the region. He has reason to boast. The president, whose reign dates back to Soviet days, secured an unprecedented degree of autonomy from the Kremlin during the 1990s and the region has prospered by retaining control of its substantial resources -- agriculture, industry and oil -- and courting foreign investment.

One of the region's primary ethnic groups, the Tatars, trace their lineage back to the feared Mongol hordes that raced across Russia in the 12th and 13th centuries.

In recent years, Islam has become more visible in Tatar life. The Qol Sharif mosque, towering over the Volga, was rededicated in June. An Islamic university was opened five years ago. Three years ago, a court turned down a request by three Muslim women who demanded they be allowed to wear headscarves for official identification photographs.