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1,000 detained in Moscow to prevent ethnic clashes

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Riot police officers detain protester outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010. Riot police officers detain protester outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police fearing more clashes between racist hooligans and ethnic minorities detained 1,000 people in a stand off near a Moscow train station Wednesday, taking a strong stance against far right extremists after weekend rioting left dozens injured.

Hundreds of riot police outside the Kievsky station hauled mostly young men and teenagers shouting racist slogans into police vans. Officers confiscated an arsenal of weapons, including knives and metal bars, police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said.

Resentment has been rising among Slavic Russians over the growing presence in Moscow and elsewhere of people from the southern Caucasus region, the home of numerous ethnic groups, most of them Muslim. People from other parts of the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, also face ethnic discrimination and are frequent victims of hate crimes.

The train station is popular with street merchants from the Caucasus. The majority of those detained were Slavic Russians shouting racist slogans and calling for violence, although some ethnic minorities from the Caucasus were also taken into custody.

Police declined immediate comment on when they could be released or whether they face any charges.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said there were no injuries reported.

"Police will severely punish any provocations and violence," he said in televised remarks.

The area around Kievsky station was feared to be a target of those who rioted outside the Kremlin, mainly soccer fans, who chanted "Russia for Russians!" during Saturday's clashes that left dozens injured. Many soccer fans are linked with neo-Nazis and other radical racist groups that mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The latest violence raised new doubts about the government's ability to control the rising tide of xenophobia, which poses a serious threat to Russia's existence as a multiethnic state. It also embarrassed the Kremlin just days after FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and raised questions about Russia's ability to safely hold international sporting events, including the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Russian media have been abuzz with rumors that some people from the Caucasus could try to take revenge for Saturday's riots, even as community leaders described the allegations as a provocation and called for calm.

A shopping mall just outside the station shut down hours ahead of schedule, and most stands at a nearby flower market, operated mostly by people from the Caucasus, were shut. Authorities towed cars early in the morning in anticipation of possible clashes.

The weekend rally began as a protest against the killing of a member of the Spartak Moscow soccer team's fan club, who was shot with rubber bullets during clashes with Caucasus natives at a bus stop earlier this month. Spartak fans claimed corrupt policemen detained one suspected killer following the fight, but released others because they had powerful backers in the Caucasus.

Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev acknowledged Monday that investigators had made a mistake and said three more suspects have been arrested.

A video where anti-Caucasus slogans were interlaced with footage of ethnic minorities from southern Russia beating up policemen and Slavic men was posted on the website of the Spartak fan club Wednesday.

"They don't respect our traditions," the slogans said in reference to the Caucasus natives. "Now is the time to show them who's in charge. They went too far."

Police also rounded up around 60 protesters in St. Petersburg, where radical groups also planned a gathering Wednesday.

Riot police prevented clashes in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, southern Russian cities with large non-Slavic populations where ethnic clashes have been frequent in recent years, officials said. Dozens of mostly young men have been detained in several cities in central Russia and Siberia, Russian news agencies reported.

President Dmitry Medvedev urged police Monday not to hesitate to use force to put down riots, saying that leaving hate crimes unpunished would jeopardize stability.

Hate attacks in Russia peaked in 2008, when 115 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded, according to Sova, an independent watchdog.

Some Russia experts noted links between nationalist groups and some part of officialdom when hard-liners within the government may be supporting the nationalists to justify tight Kremlin controls and fend off efforts to open up Russia's political system.

Opposition groups claim that pro-Kremlin youth organizations have hired soccer fans and racists to carry out attacks on Kremlin critics.


Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow, Sergei Venyavsky in Krasnodar and Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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