Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#1 - JRL 7220
Russia marks Independence Day
June 12, 2003

MOSCOW - For the first time in 47 years, warplanes flew over the Kremlin on Thursday to celebrate the Day of Russia, a holiday marking the rebirth of the nation.

While President Vladimir Putin and dozens of dignitaries, including Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president, members of Putin's government and regional leaders, watched from a stage in front of Lenin's tomb on Red Square, 10 military jets flew in formation overhead, then soared off into the overcast sky.

"On this day, we honor our motherland, our Russia. We honor the country of a thousand years history and unique heritage, the country which united on a huge space many peoples, territories and cultures," Putin said in an address to the participants in the festivities.

The holiday, formally known as the Day of Russia, has been celebrated on June 12 since 1990 when Russia adopted its declaration of state sovereignty in an attempt to gain more autonomy from the already wobbly Soviet Union.

Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Federation a year later, and by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union no longer existed.

"This holiday of national unity is marked today in all regions of the country," Putin said. "It is a holiday for all of whom the Russian land is dear and near."

The Red Square ceremony featured a military parade of soldiers, sailors and airmen. The presidential band played and singers performed the most popular songs in Russian history, including tunes from the Soviet era.

Dressed in red, white and blue, athletes, dancers and gymnasts joined representatives of Russia's 89 regions formed columns to create a huge Russian flag stretching across the square.

Security was tight, and the square was closed to the public, with only specially invited guests allowed in the stands flanking Lenin's mausoleum.

Additional security measures were also being taken across Russia over the four-day holiday weekend, police officials said.

Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin told the ITAR-Tass news agency that police street patrols will be increased by 25 percent until June 15, and will mostly concentrate on places of mass gatherings where the holiday will be celebrated.

After the singers and musicians performed and Putin spoke, the 6,000 participants in the ceremony sang the national anthem as the jets screamed over Red Square for the first time since 1956.

In the decades after the Russian revolution, Kremlin overflights were a regular feature three times a year: May Day, Air Force Day on Aug. 18 and Nov. 7, Revolution Day, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

The last overflight was May Day, 1956. Ceremonial military flights were canceled after several accidents over Moscow, and all plane flights over the capital were banned.

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