Virus threat forces Russia to curb WWII celebrations

Moscow (AFP) – Russia will hold only silent celebrations on Saturday for the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, after President Vladimir Putin postponed the Red Square parade due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The president will now deliver a 20-minute speech at a war memorial next to the Kremlin walls, an unprecedented move, rather than presiding over a traditional parade with thousands of soldiers and military equipment.

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Russia has become Europe's focal point in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 10,000 new cases a day for the past six days, forcing authorities to control its plans.

The Kremlin had planned a 90-minute parade with 15,000 soldiers, vintage vehicles and their latest missile systems in front of veterans and world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

The event was designed to highlight Russia's view of itself as heir to the achievements of the USSR and with its interpretation of history prevailing over that of the West because of the sacrifice of millions of Soviet citizens in the war.

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The display of military equipment was also intended to show Russia's role as a global intermediary in current conflicts like Syria, even when the international community refuses to acknowledge Crimea's annexation of Moscow to Ukraine.

But when the virus hit Europe, Putin finally postponed the parade in mid-April.

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The "risks associated with the epidemic, whose peak has not yet passed, are extremely high," said Putin at the time.

"It does not give me the right to start preparations for the parade."

He will give a televised speech at 07:00 GMT, which should address historical events and the current crisis.

If the parades are canceled, there will still be fireworks and aerial displays in many Russian cities.

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Meanwhile, the mayor of Moscow has warned residents to stay at home and only watch screens on TV or on the balcony, if they have one.

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There will also be a minute of silence at 7pm in each of the country's 11 time zones.

– & # 39; Victory Day & # 39;

A popular event where Russians walk around the parade holding photos of family members who fought in the war will now be reorganized online.

Some are also expected to stand on balconies holding their photos and singing a Soviet song called "Victory Day".

Russia is currently fifth in the world in number of cases, with 187,859 confirmed on Friday, although its death toll is still relatively low at 1,723 people.

While most ex-Soviet countries also remain locked, two are moving forward with traditional military exhibitions.

Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled out the dangers of the coronavirus, plans a parade involving some 5,000 soldiers.

"We can't do the opposite," insisted Lukashenko on Friday, comparing his country to a war fortress that resisted the Nazis.

In Turkmenistan in Central Asia, which recorded no cases, a military parade will be held in front of a war memorial in the capital Ashgabat.

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