About two dozen youths from a nationalist party staged a noisy picket in central Moscow on Thursday to protest the influx of illegal migrants from ex-Soviet republics seeking work in Russia.
Several activists, clad in Central Asian robes and skullcaps, staged a mock sale of a traditional Central Asian meat patty that had fake worms in it, while another protester held two plastic canisters labeled "gasoline" and "donkey's urine" symbolizing that migrants allegedly dilute fuel and sell other low-quality products.
Another activist walking on stilts chased away the mock traders with a long broom, while protesters shouted "Moscow for Muscovites!" and "Guest workers, get out of here!"
"We are fighting against illegal migrants," said Boris Nekrasov, a 23-year-old actor. "When they come here, there are more crimes, they hike rent prices and Muscovites are forced to pay more."
The collapse of the Soviet Union sent hundreds of thousands of migrants from poorer former Soviet republics seeking work in Russia, and interethnic conflicts are frequent.
There have also been racial attacks against dark-skinned foreigners in Russia's big cities, including a number of fatal assaults. Prosecutors in the southern city of Voronezh are now investigating the October beating death of a Peruvian student who was attacked by alleged skinheads.
Human rights groups warned in a report this summer that racism and xenophobia are growing at an alarming rate in Russia, fueled by economic hardship and the government failure to address ethnic tensions.
Viktor Volkov, a Moscow city legislator from the nationalist Rodina (Homeland) party, called Thursday for introducing strict work quotas for foreign workers to prevent them from taking away jobs from Russians.
"They have their own countries, let them live there," he said. "They invade our labor market. Muscovites cannot work on construction sites."
Sociologists say, however, that Russia's rapidly dwindling population is in dire need of migrants and call on officials to ease immigration conditions to welcome labor forces from other countries.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building