Hundreds join Moscow anti-Muslim rally
About 500 members of Russian far-right groups gathered in central Moscow on Saturday to demand an end to social payments for Muslim republics of the volatile North Caucasus region.
The "Stop Feeding the Caucasus!" rally was sanctioned by Moscow city authorities but condemned by rights groups and even government officials amid fears of rising xenophobic tensions on the eve of election season.
"We are not xenophobes. We are not Nazis. We are demanding equality for Russian regions," said rally organisers Anton Nosov of the little-known Russia Civic Union group.
Another speaker told the mostly young crowd that "we spend too much money and too much blood" on the Caucasus.
The rally was watched closely by Russian riot police and all roads leading to the Moscow square were closed off. No violence was reported.
Anti-Muslim sentiments have grown in the Russian capital in recent months as the economy sputters through a post-crisis recovery while floods of migrants flee to Moscow in search of low-paying menial jobs.
The mayor of Moscow last month issued instructions for city officials to give preferential treatment to locals during hiring and accused migrant workers of being responsible for about half of the crimes committed in the city.
Moscow allowed Saturday's rally despite forbidding similar gatherings in defence of human rights.
The city authorities' decision drew rare criticism from the Public Chamber -- an advisory council set up by the Kremlin to debate various social issues.
The council issued an official statement on Friday conceding that the payments made by Moscow to the restless Caucasus region were "not small".
But it called the rally a "provocation" and accused its organisers "of thinking only about their political gains and forgetting about the interests of Russia."
© 2011 AFP