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Russia Prepares for Possible Neo-Nazi Violence - 2002-04-15

In Russia, police say they will step up security to prevent any possible violence by neo-Nazi groups prior to the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday on Saturday. Some extremist groups have issued specific threats against foreigners this week.

Attacks by gangs of neo-Nazi skinheads against foreigners, especially Africans and dark-skinned people from the Caucasus region and Central Asia are all too common in Moscow and other large Russian cities. Often such attacks occur at subway stops, outdoor markets and discos. There have also been attacks against Jewish schools and synagogues. But this week concern about skinhead attacks has been heightened. Russia's interior ministry estimates that some 10,000 Russians, mostly young people, belong to neo-Nazi groups. These extremist organizations have stepped up activities as they prepare to mark the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday on Saturday. Last week, skinhead groups sent anonymous e-mails to numerous embassies here in Moscow threatening to kill foreigners.

Embassies are taking the threat seriously. The American Embassy has cautioned its citizens to be extra vigilant and to avoid areas where skinheads might congregate. And Embassies of a number of former Soviet Republics have appealed to Moscow for greater protection for their citizens living in Russia. The embassies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have asked that police and security forces be on heightened alert to guard against skinhead attacks against people from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Police have promised to step up security around diplomatic missions and public places, such as the subway, shopping malls, markets, train terminals and airports.

Police in neighboring Ukraine said on Monday they have detained eight people for questioning in connection with an attack over the weekend at the main synagogue in the capital Kiev. A gang of 50 youths attacked and beat Jewish worshippers leaving the synagogue after Saturday prayers. Ukraine's chief rabbi described the attack as an "anti-Jewish act," while police said they believed soccer hooligans were responsible.