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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands March to Protest or Just to Party

MTYabloko activists celebrating the May Day holiday on Tuesday with a march from Lubyanskaya Ploshchad to Kitai Gorod, where they gathered for a rally.
It was an image that shouldn't have seemed out of place at a May Day rally: a minivan with a poster plastered on the side that read, "Down With the Masters Who Pork Out on Our Wages."

"This isn't a festive day for us," an activist from the group Working Russia shouted through the car's loudspeaker to the largely unresponsive crowd of Communists and their sympathizers gathered near the Oktyabrskaya metro station. "This is the day to fight for our rights, for the rights of workers!"

But the Working Russia activist's angry tone hardly jibed with pro-Kremlin May Day celebrations Tuesday, which saw tens of thousands of people of all political stripes take to the streets.

As in recent years, a festive rally staged by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which gathered some 20,000 people outside City Hall carrying flowers and balloons and looking merry, overshadowed traditional protest marches by the Communists.

While speakers touched on issues such as pensions and social benefits, the United Russia-organized rally appeared to be in the spirit of comments made last month by State Duma speaker and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov, who said public gatherings should be "festive in nature" and that people should "take to the street and celebrate certain events."

The comments were made of the Dissenters' March in Moscow on April 14, an opposition rally that was violently dispersed by riot police.

But while Kremlin-loyal parties celebrated Day of Spring and Labor -- known as Day of Workers' Solidarity in Soviet times -- smaller groups of opposition forces used the opportunity to protest what they called a police state and a rollback of democracy under President Vladimir Putin.

Thousands of communists rallied at Teatralnaya Ploshchad near the bust of Karl Marx calling for "Russia without Putin." And more than 1,000 people gathered outside the Lubyanka metro station on Tuesday morning for a Yabloko-organized rally titled "For Freedom and Justice, Against the Police State," in which demonstrators marched to the Kitai-Gorod metro station.

City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin smiled as he carried the Yabloko flag along with activists yelling, "Down with the police state!"

Outside the Kitai-Gorod metro station, Yabloko supporters were joined by activists from Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front and human rights groups, including the Moscow Helsinki Group and the For Human Rights movement.

Mitrokhin, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, and Kasparov aide Marina Litvinovich were among those who addressed the crowd.

"We've come here to demonstrate our will for opposition and to show that civil society is not yet dead," Mitrokhin told the crowd.

Two red Soviet flags, a hallmark of communist rallies, could be seen among the Yabloko and United Civil Front flags in the crowd.

Litvinovich told the crowd that opposition forces must cooperate with any political movement against Putin's government, including the banned National Bolsheviks.

"We mustn't refuse our cohorts," Litvinovich said. "We have nothing to quarrel about anymore. It's time to unite."

Among other rallies held Tuesday were those organized by pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, and the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration.

Around 400 nationalists marched in the group's rally near the VDNKh metro station in northern Moscow, chanting, "We need a white Europe," and "Send the immigrants home."

"Less than 7 percent of the world is white," State Duma Deputy Andrei Savelyev said. "We have to have a home, and our home is Europe."

But rather than protesting illegal immigration, Denis Zubov, one of the group's leaders, berated the political status quo and seized upon recent events to stir the crowd into loud chanting.

"Who will cry for Yeltsin?" Zubov said over a loudspeaker from atop a flight of steps. "Hands up whoever wants to send Yeltsin to hell."

A sea of hands rose simultaneously in front of him.

Vasily, an activist, 24, who refused to give his last name, spelled out the reasons he had turned up.

"Today on the metro, the carriage was practically full of Chinese people," Vasily said. "What tomorrow? A carriage of blacks?"

Two migrant workers who said they were from Kyrgyzstan fled the scene when a journalist asked their opinion of the rally.

The rallies proved to be subdued compared with the recent Dissenters' Marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

Around 35,000 people took part in rallies and marches in Moscow, and 8,000 police officers were on the streets to maintain order, city police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told Interfax. No accidents or clashes were reported, he said.

The Interior Ministry said there were no serious incidents connected with May Day rallies across the country on Tuesday, which were patrolled by more than 200,000 police officers.

An Interior Ministry source told Interfax that the events were "conducted in a festive, well-intentioned atmosphere" and that there were no serious incidents.