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Medvedev vows crackdown on racist soccer fans after Moscow rampage

Thousands of ultranationalist soccer fans rallied near the Kremlin on Saturday, prompting a wave of violence against ethnic minorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

By Correspondent / December 13, 2010

Russian soccer fans lay flowers during a rally in Moscow on Saturday, Dec. 11, in the memory of Yegor Sviridov, who was killed on Dec. 6, in an attack on soccer supporters. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is vowing to crack down hard on ultranationalist extremists after weekend riots by soccer fans.

Misha Japaridze/AP

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Moscow

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is vowing to crack down hard on ultranationalist extremists after weekend riots by soccer fans, egged on by neo-Nazi groups, led to a wave of violence against ethnic minorities in Moscow and other major Russian cities.

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"Everything is under control – both in Moscow and the country," Mr. Medvedev wrote on his Twitter page late Sunday. "We will deal with everyone who did filthy things. Everyone. You can be certain of that."

The threat of nationalist backlash against Russia's multitude of non-Slavic minorities has long been a proverbial elephant in the room, and it came roaring into the open on Saturday as some 5,000 soccer fans rallied in a square adjacent to the Kremlin, some shouting racist slogans such as "Russia for the Russians" and making explicit threats against members of Moscow's darker-skinned and mainly-Muslim minority from the North Caucasus region.

Protesters set off fireworks and threw chunks of ice at police on Manege Square. Heavily armored riot police drove the protesters back from the Kremlin, arresting 65 people and injuring more than 30 in what looked at times like a pitched battle. The soccer fans fled into Moscow's metro system, where some reportedly went on a rampage against non-Slavic looking people.

Anger over death of soccer fan

While a few youths appeared to be giving Nazi-style salutes, some observers argued that the demonstrations were less provoked by ultranationalist agitators than by anger over last week's death of soccer enthusiast Yegor Sviridov.

Fans of Moscow's Spartak soccer team blame police for failing to properly investigate the gang-related killing of Mr. Sviridov, who died in a fight with a group of youthful immigrants from the North Caucasus region.

"They are just angry because their comrade was killed, and the suspects were freed by police," says Eduard Sorokin, an expert with Stadion, a Moscow sports consultancy. "One wonders if the authorities aren't deliberately whipping this trouble up to have a pretext to toughen order."

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