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Awards, Arrests and a Russia Day Blockade

APA Young Guard activist passing out ribbons Friday. Opposition activists were detained for offering black armbands.
President Dmitry Medvedev presented state awards to people who reached new frontiers in outer space and cyberspace as the country celebrated the Russia Day holiday with a long weekend.

Medvedev handed out awards to 12 people during a ceremony Friday in the Kremlin's Georgiyevsky Hall, including the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and Yevgeny Kaspersky, the founder of the eponymous anti-virus software.

Tereshkova, who became the first woman in space in 1963, dedicated her award to Russia's space program, while Kaspersky called for improvements to the national education system in order to churn out more talented engineers.

"It is possible that this will require 10 to 15 years of hard work, but there is no other way for Russian companies to be competitive in Western and Eastern markets," Kaspersky said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Medvedev also gave awards to three creators of the "Smeshariki" children's animated series at the ceremony.

Russia Day marks the date in 1990 that the Congress of the People's Deputies of the Soviet Russian Republic adopted a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

For most people, the holiday is little more than an extra day off work, but for several hundred workers in the North Caucasus it was a chance to block a road to protest small salaries. The workers for a regional provider of resort services, Elbrusturist, blocked a road in Kabardino-Balkaria for the whole day, demanding higher salaries and a majority ownership of the company, RIA-Novosti reported.

Sergei Chirikov / AP
Kaspersky leaving a ceremony at the Kremlin with his state award Friday.
The protest was reminiscent of a highway blockade over wage arrears earlier this month in the Leningrad region town of Pikalyovo, which prompted a visit by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Medvedev warned last Wednesday that governors who failed to prevent similar unrest would be fired.

Elsewhere, the Russia Day holiday passed relatively quietly, with about 2,300 people taking part in a pro-Kremlin rally in the Far East city of Khabarovsk, according to the official web site of local authorities, Smaller pro-Kremlin rallies took place in other cities.

More than 3 million people participated in Russia Day festivities nationwide, RIA-Novosti reported Saturday, citing an Interior Ministry spokeswoman. In Moscow, 200,000 people took to the streets for the festivities, including 25,000 who watched a concert on Red Square and 25,000 who visited the war memorial at Poklonnaya Gora.

Moscow police detained four activists with the opposition Red Youth Union outside Park Kultury metro station as they prepared to distribute black armbands as a symbol of mourning about the current authorities, reported. A Ren-TV cameraman and a photographer were detained with the activists, it said.

On Pushkin Square, police paid no attention to activists with the pro-Kremlin Young Guard group who passed out ribbons in the colors of the Russian national flag to passersby.

First called Independence Day in 1991, the June 12 holiday was renamed the Day of the Declaration of the Sovereignty of the Russian Federation by then-President Boris Yeltsin in 1994. In 2002, then-President Vladimir Putin gave the holiday its current name, Russia Day.