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Monday, 13 December 2010

Russian football fans run riot in Moscow protest

Russian football fans and ultranationalists ran riot in the centre of Moscow on Saturday, when a demonstration against the death of a fan descended into violence that left 13 people hospitalised.

Thousands of fans, supported by members of far-right groups, gathered in Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin for the unauthorised protest, with some shouting slogans such as "Russia for Russians" and performing Nazi salutes, according to an AFP photographer.

They were protesting the death of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow fan who was shot in the head last Saturday during a fight with men from the Russian Caucasus.

The incident has exposed the close links between Russian extremists and football supporters, and is a major embarrassment for the country so soon after it won the right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

As many as 5,000 people, many wearing hoods and scarves to cover their faces, descended on the square, and fighting quickly broke out when protestors threw flares and objects at anti-riot police.

Several dozen supporters suffered injuries as they fought with police, while demonstrators also violently attacked at least five men of Caucasus origin, who were seen with bleeding faces.

A total of 65 people were arrested, according to police.

"Thirteen people including police officers have been hospitalised," said Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who blamed the violence on "left-wing extremists".

Protestors beat up a cameraman of state news agency RIA Novosti and smashed his camera.

Security was reinforced in the Moscow metro system after demonstrators smashed a number of barriers, Russian news agencies reported.

"If the authorities don't change the policy on immigration, there will be a lot of bloodshed," said one demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask.

Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev said he had been to the square to talk with demonstrators, and confirmed that police had kept force to a minimum.

This provoked criticism from rights activists, who say police rarely show such restraint when dealing with opposition protests.

The suspect in Sviridov's shooting, Aslan Cherkesov, who is from the Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, is under arrest and claimed he was acting in self defence.

The violence followed a protest on Tuesday evening in which around 1,000 people blocked a Moscow highway and shouted racist slogans.

Meanwhile in Saint Petersburg, around 1,500 supporters gathered for a similar unauthorised protest.

Police arrested about 60 people when fans broke through a police cordon and stopped traffic on several major roads.

Spartak Moscow is one of the top Russian premiership sides and it has an impassioned support base in the capital.

As Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup, its football fans -- some of whom model themselves on British hooligans, wearing the same fashion labels and calling themselves "firms" -- will be closely watched by the authorities.

In July another Spartak fan, telejournalist Yury Volkov, was stabbed to death in a fight with men from the Russian Caucasus in a central Moscow park. A Chechen man has been charged with the crime.

The killing prompted fans to brandish banners with Volkov's name at matches and to hold several public protests.
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