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1 May, 2008 12:10

May Day marchers take to the streets

Hundreds of thousands of people across Russia have taken to the streets to mark the May Day holiday. Opposition parties, including the Communists, have used the occasion to speak out against the government.

May the first is traditionally linked with the country's labour movement, but that changed slightly following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today it's called the 'Day of Spring and Labour' and is used for peaceful rallies by political parties and groups, as well as a chance for people to enjoy the spring weather.

In Moscow, political groups took the opportunity to champion their cause. Pro-Kremlin parties, as well as opposition and anarchist movements, were on the streets in significant numbers.

For the communists, the holiday is particularly nostalgic and is an opportunity for them to look back fondly at Soviet times when the holiday was especially significant.

“I want Soviet power back. I hate the present power. I was never rich, but I always felt like a human being, now – I don't. I feel sorry for my country,” one Communist follower said.

The march by United Russia’s supporters and trade unions in central Moscow attracted almost 23,000 people.

“This is an important holiday for us. This is my future and my country. If we don't get involved, no one will do it for us,” one of the participants said.

The youngest party in the Russian parliament – Fair Russia – also gathered thousands of its supporters for May Day.

Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov said they are “sure that the new president, and the new prime minister will do everything, so that fairness returns to our every-day lives”.

Labour and social issues became the focus for many demonstrators.

A nationalist group, calling for tougher measures against illegal immigration, also took the chance to voice its concerns.

The democratic Yabloko party organised a march to protest against violations of human rights.

Celebrations across Russia

Meanwhile, the rest of Russia has been celebrating as well.

In the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, drummer girls headed a march of around 25,000 people.

Residents in Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, gathered in the town's main square to show their concern about the construction work planned around what is the world's largest lake.

In Kamchatka, locals decided to work on Labour Day, starting the construction of a sports centre.

However, in most cities people came out onto the streets just to enjoy the spring.

May Day history

In Russia, May Day has been linked with the labour movement since the late 19th century. On that day in 1890, 10,000 workers staged a strike in Warsaw.

Underground celebrations were then held in Tsarist Russia each year.

After the October revolution of 1917, May Day was declared an official state holiday and celebrated openly for the first time. For some 80 years, it was used as an opportunity to showcase the Soviet Union's strength. Troops and military hardware were paraded through Red Square.

In the late 1980s the celebrations began to wane and in 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev was jeered by protesters waving anti-Soviet banners.

After the fall of the USSR, the holiday was renamed Spring and Labour Day, and the event took on a different face.

Nowadays May Day is a chance for different political groups to champion their cause. Pro-Kremlin parties, as well as opposition and anarchist movements take to the streets.

Last year around 15 groups held rallies in Moscow. The largest, led by the country's majority United Russia Party, drew around 25,000 people, while an illegal anarchist demonstration had to be dispersed by police.

On this day some turn out to fight for a specific cause, such as a pension rise. For others, the holiday simply holds nostalgic value.