Thousands of Russian nationalists march in Moscow
About 10,000 Russian ultra-nationalists marched through Moscow on Monday in a protest against Muslim migrants that saw police make dozens of arrests.
Moscow authorities said they detained about 30 young men for making Nazi-style salutes and breaking the windows of cars driven by people who looked like they came from impoverished Muslim regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
"Why are there foreigners in our cities? This is our home," said a young woman on the march who identified herself only as Nadezhda.
Another man with a shaved head and a young child on his shoulders said simply: "We are all Russians here. Kids have nothing to be afraid of."
He spoke as a group of flag flag-waving youths marched by holding up a banner proclaiming: "Today, a mosque -- tomorrow, jihad."
The protest concluded with a booming performance by Kolovrat -- a white supremacist rock group whose lyrics idolise Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and call for the destruction of other ethnic groups.
The demonstration took place in the same blue-collar region on the city's outskirts that saw riots break out three weeks ago over a deadly stabbing blamed on a citizen of Azerbaijan.
Attacks on ethnic minorities and foreigners working in the city have been a regular feature of the annual "Russian March" -- an event coinciding with a new Unity Day holiday President Vladimir Putin introduced to commemorate the expulsion of Poles from Moscow in 1612.
The US embassy in Moscow urged Americans to steer well clear of the protest and be vigilant throughout the day.
"Extreme violence has been witnessed during previous nationalist protests, and spontaneous demonstrations of support may appear anywhere throughout the city, at any time of the day," the US embassy said in a special security message.
Ethnic tensions have been building
Analysts and Kremlin critics have long accused Putin of fomenting dangerous nationalist sentiments in order to build a broad-based coalition of middle-class Russians around his 13-year rule.
Ethnic tensions have simmered in Moscow and other major cities with a steady inflow of labourers from crisis-hit regions of the former Soviet Union.
The workers often endure hazardous labour and living conditions and are regarded with disdain by many Muscovites.
The tensions came to a boil on October 13 when a crowd of thousands chanting "Russia for Russians!" and other neo-Nazi slogans rioted in the southern Biryulyovo district following the murder of a young Muscovite.
Smaller protests continued until city authorities arrested a man from Azerbaijan who worked at the vegetable warehouse where the stabbing occurred.
Stemming the migration of ethnic Muslim labourers was also a major theme of Moscow mayoral elections in September that Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin won over opposition leader Alexei Navalny -- a nationalist who has attended previous "Russian March" rallies.
Navalny said he still believed in the need to rid Moscow of migrants but would not be joining Monday's demonstration.
"I still support the Russian March as an idea and as an event," Navalny wrote on his blog.
"But today, my participation in the Russian March would turn into a hellish comedy," Navalny said in reference to the growing media attention he has been gaining both in Russia and abroad.
Putin meanwhile marked Unity Day by attending an exhibit honouring the Romanov dynasty together with Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.
"Cohesion and solidarity have turned into the bedrock of the Russian state," said Putin.
"This unbreakable national unity has repeatedly helped Russia defend its freedom and national independence, overcoming years of trouble and achieving triumphs."