Mass protest in Moscow against 'coup' in Kiev

Pro-government protesters vow to prevent Ukraine-style uprising in Russia, as Moscow clamps down on opposition groups.

    Thousands of pro-Kremlin activists have taken to the streets of central Moscow vowing to prevent a Ukraine-style uprising in Russia.

    The rally on Saturday by the Anti-Maidan movement marked one year since scores of demonstrators were gunned down in Ukraine's pro-Western uprising that came to be known as the Maidan protests.

    "Ukraine's example has taught us a lot, and we won't allow a Maidan in our country!" organisers said ahead of the rally in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    "Putinism forever," said a hand-made banner held by an elderly woman, while a column of Cossacks brandished a placard reading "The Maidan is a disease. We will treat it".

    After the Kiev uprising toppled Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych last February, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and has since backed a separatist rebellion in the east of the country.

    Moscow police said some 35,000 turned up for Saturday's event.

    The marchers, some dressed in fatigues, waved Russian flags and many sported the black and orange St George ribbon, a symbol of victory over Nazi Germany that Ukrainian separatists have adopted as their badge of honour.

    "Yankee go home and take the Maidan with you," read a massive banner carried by several people.

    Established early this year, the umbrella movement includes several groups representing bikers, Cossacks, athletes and Russian veterans of the Afghan and Chechen wars, some of whom have fought alongside rebels in eastern Ukraine.

    Warning against coup attempts

    One of the movement's leaders, Nikolai Starikov, said the march was their first major rally aimed at discouraging the pro-Western opposition from plotting a coup in Russia.

    "Don't even try. Don't make any attempts to rock the boat in Russia," he said in televised remarks.

    State-controlled television gave ample coverage to Saturday's event and said similar rallies had been held across the country.

    The opposition plans a protest on March 1 against the Ukraine conflict as well as Russia's economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by Western sanctions over Moscow's support for the separatists.

    Earlier this week a Moscow court jailed top opposition activist Alexei Navalny for two weeks in a move that will most likely prevent him from leading next weekend's rally.

    The protest is set to take place in southeastern Moscow, after authorities denied permission for the activists to march through the city centre.

    Putin remains Russia's most popular politician despite hardships brought on by the economic crisis and several rounds of Western sanctions.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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