President Vladimir Putin Saturday hailed Russia's progress, and appealed for unity in a speech on Moscow's Red Square marking Russia Day. The celebrations, marking Russia's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, included a parade of performers in regional costumes.

Just as the famed Kremlin clock tower struck noon, thousands of dancers dressed in colorful costumes began parading through Red Square.

Different groups were dressed in the red, blue and white colors of Russia's flag, waving multicolored banners, as they passed in front of President Putin and other dignitaries.

Mr. Putin was joined by government ministers, regional leaders and some of Russia's leading athletes, including Anastasia Myskina, who won the women's championship title in the French Open tennis tournament a week ago.

Later, delegations from each of Russia's 88 regions passed near the reviewing stand, performing songs and dances from across the country.

Mr. Putin said Russia made great strides in strengthening the country's economy and its standing on the international scene. But he also said Russia is still facing what he called substantial, painful and enormous social problems, and rallied the people to unite behind him in tackling them.

In a brief speech, Mr. Putin proclaimed that peoples all across Russia, together, are building a free and democratic power, as they strive to attain important and difficult goals.

Russia Day marks the Russian parliament's June 12, 1990, declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union.

Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of Russia, was among the guests of honor at the Red Square ceremony.