Red Square purged for the Queen

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The Independent Online
CALL it the Potemkin Walkabout. Deposited by Zil limousine near the spot where past Tsars executed their enemies, Queen Elizabeth tramped across Red Square yesterday to find empty cobblestones, students from Nottingham, Glasgow and Bristol and a posse of Russian secret police.

In the land that pioneered regimented mass rallies, the biggest spectacle on the second day of the royal tour was the near silence of this vast, normally vibrant heart of Moscow. Sealed off on all sides by grey metal barriers, Red Square had been meticulously purged of all its normal life, including the crowds of ordinary Muscovites that the Queen had set out to see.

The trip to the square was meant to have been a casual counterpoint to the day's more sombre duty of laying a wreath in memory of the 20 million Soviet citizens killed fighting Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Instead, it produced mostly frayed tempers.

'Any relationship between what happens on this trip and the printed programme is purely accidental,' complained a British diplomat accompanying the Queen on a lonely trek across Red Square with the Duke of Edinburgh, President Boris Yeltsin, the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and an entourage of other officials. Security guards scowled on all sides.

''Why are they so afraid of us?' asked Andrei Striltsov, a young engineer held back at a police barrier set up hundreds of yards away.

The Queen arrived in Red Square from the Kremlin, passing through Spassky Gate in an armour-plated Russian limousine. Manoeuvred into position in front of St Basil's Cathedral by President Yeltsin, the Queen smiled broadly as she turned to face what was supposed to be a crowd of well-wishers. Her face dropped as she saw only a pack of Fleet Street journalists.

Police finally admitted a few score people on to the edge of the square, but many were British students. 'It seems a bit ironic,' said Gillian Anderson, a student from Glasgow University. 'The Queen comes all this way to talk to people but most of the people in the crowd are foreigners.'