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Pro-Kremlin demos draw thousands on May Day in Russia

Pro-Kremlin parties and trade unions brought thousands of people onto the streets in May Day demonstrations Sunday as they rallied support for Russia’s ruling duo ahead of crucial polls.

Crowds waving balloons and blue or red flags gathered in cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok to Moscow in carefully-choreographed rallies reminiscent of the Soviet era when May 1 was one of the most venerable holidays celebrating international socialism.

While the holiday has been renamed “Spring and Labour Day,” many Russians still take to the streets with Soviet-era slogans like “Peace. May. Labour.”

Russia is gearing up to hold parliamentary elections in December followed by presidential polls next March in which both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are considering running.

The May Day demonstrations present an opportunity for pro-Kremlin political parties to rally and showcase support for the ruling tandem.

It is also a chance for the authorities, regularly criticised for violently dispersing opposition rallies, to show respect for freedom of assembly.

Opposition parties of all hues have said they would hold their own rallies to protest against the policies of the Kremlin.

The United Russia party headed by Putin said ahead of the demonstration it had hoped to bring up to 25,000 people onto the streets under slogans like “Medvedev! Putin! Russia forward!,” and “People! Medvedev! Putin! Together we are a force!”

Sunday’s relaxed atmosphere at the rallies organised by pro-Kremlin parties and trade unions contrasted sharply with riot police’s violent dispersal of opposition demonstrations in recent months.

While the country’s older generation embraces the holiday for sentimental reasons, many said they were under pressure to join the rallies.

In remote Vladivostok, where many residents entertain anti-government sentiments, more than 50,000 people participated in demonstrations organized by the regional government and led by United Russia.

School teacher Veronika Fyodorova told AFP she had been made to join the rally.

“If your bosses tell you “you have to,” then you’d better heed that wish,” Fyodorova told AFP.