Far-right groups plan to hold rallies across Russia next month under the slogan â€œItâ€™s our countryâ€ as human rights organizations warned of a mounting racist campaign to drive out foreign workers, the Reuters news agency reports.
Anti-immigrant sentiments have been widespread in Russia for years but this month President Vladimir Putin said the â€œnative populationâ€ must be protected from â€œethnicâ€ criminals after a series of fights between Russians and migrants from former Soviet republics.
Police have since deported or arrested thousands of illegal immigrants mainly from city markets which are dominated by traders from Central Asia and the Caucuses.
Georgians have been particularly heavily targeted after a row last month over alleged Russian spies in Tbilisi reduced relations between the countries to a new low.
A group called Action Against Illegal Immigrants (DPNI) is the main organizer of rallies planned in 10 Russian cities on November 4. Anti-racism campaigners are planning a counter-protest on the same day in the Russian capital.
â€œYou canâ€™t speak of being Russian as a citizenship only. Native Russians must have priority in our country,â€ Alexei Mikhailov, one of the DPNIâ€™s leaders told Reuters.
â€œWe have about 10 million illegal immigrants and most of them are criminals,â€ he said.
The DPNI has emerged over the last few years as a self-styled far-right group which advises ethnic Russians on how to organize protests against immigrants. Its leaders say they are against violence but in September DPNI helped organize a protest in the northern town of Kondopoga after a fight between Russians and Chechens. The protest turned into a riot and the Chechen community fled the town.
Mikhailov said more needed to be done to protect white, European Russians from immigrants â€” many of whom come to Russia from Muslim ex-Soviet republics to Russiaâ€™s south and east.
Authorities in Russiaâ€™s main cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg, have still to decide whether to grant permission for the marches, but Mikhailov said they will go ahead regardless.
He said his group did not support violence but it was likely extremist skinheads would join the marches and there may be some violence. â€œFascist groups are not welcome, but some of them will come and we expect provocations,â€ he said.
Anti-racism campaigners are also applying to city authorities in Moscow for permission to hold a march.
â€œItâ€™s a fascist march in reality,â€ Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, head of the Helsinki Group human rights organization in Moscow, said of the DPNIâ€™s plans. â€œThey are not against illegal immigrants, they are against all foreigners.â€
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