Russia May Day protests pass off peacefully

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The Independent Online
AFTER last year's bloody May Day riots, Moscow braced for violence yesterday. But in the event, small Communist and nationalist protest marches against President Boris Yeltsin's rule passed off peacefully, in part thanks to tactful policing by city authorities.

Last May a policeman was killed when Communist hardliners tore chunks of masonry from a metro station and hurled them at riot police. The demonstrators were looking for trouble, but the police were also to blame because they blocked the route of the march.

Yesterday about 10,000 mainly elderly Communists, joined by a few score young neo-Nazis in leather jackets, gathered as they did in 1993 under the giant statue of Lenin at October Square. Onlookers grew nervous as the marchers, carrying portraits of Stalin and chanting 'Let's kick Boris out', reached last year's flashpoint of Gagarin Square. But the police let them go on past the mansions of government ministers and up to the Lenin Hills. Busloads of riot police, waiting discreetly in side streets, were not called upon.

The marchers were led by Viktor Anpilov, who advocates Cuban- style Communism, and Eduard Limonov, a writer who admires Mussolini and has fought alongside the Serbs in former Yugoslavia. But key opponents of Mr Yeltsin, such as the Russian nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the former vice- president, Alexander Rutskoi, were not seen in the crowd. Earlier in the day the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, had led a separate rally near the Kremlin.

Mr Yeltsin will probably congratulate himself that his policy of seeking national reconcilation after Russia came to the brink of civil war in October is paying off. Last week, all political parties - except the Communists - signed an accord agreeing to avoid the kind of conflict that provoked the President to crush his opponents in the old Soviet-era parliament with the help of tanks.

But public apathy rather than support for Mr Yeltsin probably denied the Communists backing and ensured a peaceful May Day 1994. Russians are exhausted by political infighting and, in the little time they have free from working at two or more jobs to make ends meet, they just want to have a good time.

This year May Day coincided with Russian Orthodox Easter celebrations, and there was plenty of fun for all the family. On Saturday evening, those who did not want to go to church could walk down Old Arbat Street and listen to the street musicians brought out by the sudden warm weather.

(Photograph omitted)