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Russian ultranationalists march on Moscow

Thousands have gathered in the Russian capital to demonstrate against the country's lax immigration policies. Rights groups worry that Sunday's march signals a shift toward nationalist sympathies in Russia.

A protest against the large influx of immigrants overshadowed a national holiday in Russia on Sunday. About 20,000 people turned out for the demonstration, according to its organizers. Moscow police, however, estimated that only 5,000 or 6,000 took part in the protest.

Dressed in black, the protesters chanted "Moscow is a Russian city," according to German news agency dapd.

Smaller nationalist demonstrations also took place in other Russian cities on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters, organizer Alexander Belov said that the ultranationalists wanted to end the large influx of illegal immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia in Moscow. They were also protesting Putin's inaction toward reforming immigration policies, he said.

"Putin is the head of the criminal regime," said Belov, according to news agency AFP. "They are tired of him."

"The best people right now are forced to leave for the West."

Both human rights and migrant groups reportedly expressed worry over Sunday's march, saying it could fuel nationalist sympathies in Russia.

No violence was reported, but police did apprehend 25 men in the march who were wearing swastikas.

The national holiday celebrated on Sunday, Unity Day, commemorates the expulsion of Polish invaders from Moscow in 1612. The government reintroduced the holiday in 2005.

kms/hc (dapd, dpa, AFP)