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Far right hold largest Moscow rally in years

MOSCOW (Reuters) - At least 5,000 Russian nationalists rallied for curbs on immigration in Moscow on Thursday in one of the largest far-right demonstrations in years in the capital.

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Activists shouted “Russia for the Russians,” and carried banners calling for “White Power” and “Orthodox Faith or Death” in a march held with official permission in a suburb in the south of the capital to mark the Day of People’s Unity holiday.

“The immigrants spit in our faces. I’m fed up with all this,” said Anatoly Krovtov, a 65-year-old pensioner. Some teenaged skinheads made Nazi salutes and shouted “Glory to Russia.”

March organisers and anti-racist groups said the march was the largest in the capital in at least five years. Police said there were no reports of violence.

Around 50 percent of Russians voiced sympathy for the slogan “Russia for the Russians” in a poll by state-run Levada Centre last year and rights activists warn that the far-right has the potential to become a major force in Russian politics.

But the groups remain on the fringes and will almost certainly fail to win any seats at parliamentary elections next year.

The number of participants at the annual “Russian March” was up by one-third on last year mainly because of a performance by a popular far-right rock group, said activist Galina Kozhevnikova, whose anti-racist SOVA Centre monitored the march.

SOVA says the level of xenophobia in Russia is high but stable.

The number of racist murders in Moscow had actually fallen in recent years in the wake of a police crackdown after the slogans of far-right groups became more critical of the Russian government, Kozhevnikova said. A significant minority of the protesters at Thursday’s march chanted anti-Kremlin slogans.

The march was held to coincide with the Day of People’s Unity holiday, introduced in 2005 to celebrate the defeat of Polish invaders in 1612 and replace a communist celebration of the 1917 revolution.

At least 10,000 activists of the Pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi held a rival rally in the centre of Moscow, also dubbed “Russian March,” in which a mainly teenage crowd chanted pro-Kremlin slogans.

At an estimated 10 million, Russia hosts the world’s second largest number of migrants after the United States, according to the United Nations.

Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Peter Graff