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Communist hard-liners defended the Soviet empire, and former President Mikhail Gorbachev announced plans to form an opposition movement on Friday's third anniversary of the coup that led to the Soviet Union's collapse.

But Russians preoccupied with turmoil in their country didn't pay much attention.The anniversary was even relegated to the inside pages of some of the capital's daily newspapers, displaced by stories on more immediate concerns: rising poverty, smuggled plutonium, worsening sanitary conditions.

Only a few hundred people attended a low-key evening rally behind the White House commemorating the then-heralded triumph over the putschists and honoring the memory of three young men killed by tanks.

It was outside the White House, then the Russian parliament building, that President Boris Yeltsin climbed atop a Soviet tank to lead opposition to the coup. He was in southern Russia on Friday.

About 2,000 other people showed up at the rally with placards and signs supporting the collapsed investment company MMM, trying to capitalize on the media event. But police quickly ushered them away from the small park, saying they didn't have a permit.

At a separate gathering, leaders of the failed hard-line Communist coup spoke boldly of their role and nostalgically of the Soviet era.

"We shall not retreat in guarding the interests of our motherland, the Soviet Union, our people and socialism. We shall not retreat," said Anatoly Lukyanov, the former Soviet parliament chairman.

Lukyanov was among key conspirators in the Aug. 18-21, 1991, putsch that briefly ousted Gorbachev and, in a backlash, accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union four months later.

The top military, KGB and political figures who led the coup were granted amnesty earlier this year by Russia's new parliament. This month, a military court acquitted the only one who chose to stand trial, former Deputy Defense Minister Valentin Varennikov.

"There was no defeat," a defiant Varennikov said at a packed news conference. "We were arrested. This was a violation of human rights."

Lukyanov and several dozen fellow hard-liners gathered at a memorial service for Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, one of the plotters who killed himself days after the putsch collapsed.

Holding flowers and red flags of the Soviet Union, they stood around Akhromeyev's imposing black marble monument at Moscow's Troekurovo cemetery, with chiseled letters proclaiming: "Communist. Patriot. Soldier."