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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Banned Marchers Turn to Metro

Moscow and St. Petersburg have banned street marches planned for this holiday weekend, sending ultranationalists underground -- to the metro.

"I decided to ban the so-called Russian March," Mayor Yury Luzhkov said in a televised interview Tuesday night.

"I understand that these outcasts might make an appearance somewhere in the city, but we should not allow these kinds of actions to destroy the unity of our society," he said.

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko announced a ban in her city Wednesday.

Moscow came under fierce criticism after it allowed thousands of young people to march downtown during the Nov. 4 Unity Day holiday last year. Many nationalists carried signs displaying swastikas and yelled "Heil Hitler."

Police on Wednesday searched the Moscow studio of painter Alexei Kanurin, who filed the latest march request on behalf of the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration. He said police seized a flag with the organization's emblem.

Before Kanurin, several initiative groups had filed multiple requests with the Moscow Central Administrative District to hold the march, but they were all denied.

That did not seem to discourage leaders of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and other groups that participated in last year's march. Vladimir Tor, a coordinator at the Moscow headquarters of "Russian March-2006," said he expected 10,000 people to participate Saturday.

"Participants of the march will gather from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Komsomolskaya metro station, and from there we will move to the place where the march will start," he said.

He said the starting place was being kept secret for now.

About 2,000 people are expected to march in St. Petersburg, said Dmitry Kirillov, a coordinator there.

By law, authorities cannot ban a public march but only deny it a specified route. In Moscow, the nationalists initially planned to gather at Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad and then walk to Teatralnaya Ploshchad, where a rally was to be held.

Among organizers of the march are State Duma deputies Andrei Saveliyev, Boris Vinogradov and Dmitry Rogozin of the nationalist Rodina faction; Communist Viktor Alksnis; and Nikolai Kuryanovich, who was expelled from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday "for breaching party discipline."

"It will be an action of civil disobedience," Rogozin told journalists about the march Wednesday.

"It will be a great strategic provocation because it boosts xenophobia and facilitates the disintegration of the multi-ethnic Russia," said economist Mikhail Delyagin, a former Rodina member.

Tor stressed that marchers would not carry posters with swastikas, shout Nazi slogans or make Nazi salutes.

"We have agreed on twelve slogans, none of them using Nazi rhetoric," he said. "If anyone draws a poster with the swastika at the march, we will first ask them to hide it, and if they do not comply, we will ask the police to take action against such provocateurs."

The approved slogans include "Russia is a land of Russians," "Russian order on Russian soil," and "Kondopoga is a hero city" -- a reference to the Karelian town shaken by ethnic riots in September. Other slogans incorporate rights rhetoric, such as "For freedom of speech," "Down with corruption" and "For free elections."

Yabloko urged Moscow authorities to allow the march if it were free of Nazi insignia. "The ban ... pushes its organizers to act in ways that could destabilize the situation in Moscow and threaten the lives of Muscovites, particularly in the metro," the liberal party said in a statement.

The official march web site, www.rusmarch.org, provides elaborate guidelines on how to avoid a police crackdown while gathering for the march. It says the metro is a good place to gather due to an Interior Ministry ban on the use of gas, water cannons and stun grenades by police in the metro.

Metro chief Dmitry Gayev said no march would be allowed in the metro and anyone who obstructed the normal work of the metro would be ejected to the street.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Russia's oldest rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, said Wednesday that liberal politicians and rights activists would hold a rally of their own Saturday, near the Udarnik movie theater in central Moscow.

Some 6,500 police officers will be dispatched to maintain order in Moscow on Saturday, Interfax reported.