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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

42 Held, Armenian Injured in Clashes

Dozens of ultranationalists armed with metal poles and broken bottles attacked people from the Caucasus and Central Asia at two squares near the Kremlin and a third location Friday night, raising fears of an escalation in ethnic violence.

One ethnic Armenian was hospitalized with stab wounds and 42 people were detained in the clashes, city police said.

The attackers consisted of about 50 members of ultranationalist groups, including the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, which sought to carry out a "provocation against the population of Moscow," police said in a statement, reported.

Alexander Belov, the movement's leader, called the accusation "some kind of stupidity" Sunday and said he had given police his own version of events when summoned to a police station Saturday.

Arrests were made on Manezh Square and Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, both near the Kremlin, and outside the Fili metro station in western Moscow.

Police arrested a Russian citizen identified as I. Sergeyev, born in 1988, on suspicion of assaulting a D. Aganesyan, born in 1990. The police statement gave no other names or details about the detainees.

It was unclear Sunday whether they remained in custody and whether they would face charges.

Police said both ultranationalists and immigrants had broken the law on Friday night. They also appealed to leaders of political parties and movements not to "provoke their supporters nor entice youths and minors into committing illegal acts, particularly for ethnic reasons."

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration posted footage of the clashes on its web site. Young men carrying broken bottles and metal poles were seen clashing on what the web site said was Slavyanskaya Ploshchad.

In other footage, people chanted "Russia for Russians!" and "Kondopoga!" in reference to ethnic violence in the northwestern town late last summer that followed the killing of two local residents during a brawl with Chechens in a restaurant. Locals took to the streets, burning down the restaurant and targeting other establishments owned by people from the Caucasus.

Kondopoga has become something of a cause celebre both for ultranationalists, who claim it serves as a warning to those who tolerate the integration of different ethnicities, and for human rights groups, which call the incident a prime example of the propagation of racism.

Earlier this month, hundreds of people staged a protest in the southern city of Stavropol after two Russian students and an ethnic Chechen were killed in separate incidents there. Protesters called for the banishment of people from the Caucasus from the city.

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration participated in the protests in Stavropol and Kondopoga.

While tensions have simmered in Moscow, with the occasional fight and anti-immigration rally, larger attacks such as Friday's have been few and far between. Political analysts have speculated that some Kremlin officials are stoking ethnic tensions ahead of national elections to win votes from people worried about an ultranationalist threat.

Belov said Friday's violence, which began at around 8 p.m. on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, was provoked by people from the Caucasus.

"We were peacefully guarding Moscow from gay prostitutes when groups of people from the Caucasus approached and provoked a reaction," he said.

The square is known as a cruising area for homosexuals.

Belov said his group employs people who are always on hand during such events to document -- this time with the help of video cameras -- what goes on.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, said quite the opposite was the case. "The work of Belov's organization is to provoke such fights and strengthen the nationalist mood in the country," Brod said.

"His organization is gaining momentum, and it is a real threat. Belov travels the country and provokes these fights, this violence, and law enforcement agencies don't touch him," Brod said.

"Unfortunately, with the elections coming, these attacks will continue," Brod said, adding that the Movement Against Illegal Immigration has close ties to Dmitry Rogozin's Great Russia, a party created in April to capture the nationalist vote.

"One of Russia's most serious illnesses is xenophobia," Brod said.

Rights groups lament the apparent reluctance of authorities to act against race-related crimes. They complain that prosecutors prefer to hit apparent participants with minor public disorder or hooliganism charges.

Since the start of this year, at least 32 people have died in racist attacks across the country, and 245 others have been targeted by ultranationalists, human rights activists say.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov condemned the most recent violence.

"Any display of chauvinism, xenophobia or nationalism will be harshly put down in our capital, on the basis of the Constitution ... and on the basis of the law," Luzhkov said in televised remarks.

The attacks came just hours after the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin nominated Luzhkov to a new four-year term in office. (Story, Page 3.) Opposition politicians in the City Duma and State Duma have said the Kremlin wants to keep Luzhkov in office to help deliver votes in State Duma elections in December and in the March presidential vote.