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Moscow mayor vows crackdown after neo-Nazis march through streets

MOSCOW, Feb. 1 (JTA) — Moscow’s mayor has vowed to crack down on political extremism after 200 members of Russia’s largest ultranationalist group marched in the capital with their Nazi-style armbands and stiff-armed salutes on display. Yuri Luzhkov, mentioned as a possible contender for the Russian presidency, also lashed out at his own police force for failing to prevent the Sunday march by Russian National Unity. Indeed, following the march along the streets in northern Moscow, city authorities said they could no longer rely on law enforcers to combat extremism and would have to do so themselves. The demonstration came after a series of confrontations between Luzhkov and the group’s leader, Alexander Barkashov, which began in December after Luzhkov banned a planned meeting of the group. City prosecutors recently turned down Luzhkov’s lawsuit against Barkashov, whom the mayor claimed threatened him with violence during their verbal sparring. The police briefly detained some of the neo-Nazis but then released them and allowed them to continue their march. A local police official was shown on television apologizing for the brief arrests. Russia’s Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said on Monday he was “seriously concerned” by the march. An upcoming meeting of President Boris Yeltsin’s commission fighting extremism will focus on the activities of the group, Krasheninnikov said. In a move aimed at combating the dissemination of extremist propaganda in Moscow, last week Luzhkov banned the sale of neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic newspapers at a central Moscow square a block away from the Kremlin. In a related development, a group of youths chanting the name of Stalin and making Nazi salutes disrupted a convention of a liberal party held in Moscow over the weekend. The incident took place when the leader of the Democratic Choice of Russia, liberal Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, spoke out against recent manifestations of anti-Semitism among the leadership of the Communist Party. Some delegates attending the meeting of Gaidar’s party helped to forcibly remove the youths from the hall, and a television report showed Alexander Osovtsov, a party activist who is also executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, fighting with the youths.