Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on downtown Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue yesterday to demand a rerun of parliamentary elections they claimed had been rigged, as well as liberal reforms in Russia, turning the temperature up on Vladimir Putin and his plans to return to the Kremlin.
Moscow police put the number of protesters within the space authorised for the rally at about 30,000, saying police officers ensured public order and security at the rally “in full.” Opposition figures said 120,000 came to protest.
As the demonstration swelled, the Kremlin moved to respond in real time, with a spokeswoman for President Dmitry Medvedev announcing that reforms to ease restrictions on political parties could be enacted quickly.
The ruling United Russia party, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, won the December 4 State Duma elections, gaining nearly 50 percent, a sharp drop from over 64 percent it enjoyed at the previous election in 2007.Thousands took to the streets to protest the results. The authorities denied that major irregularities occurred, but admitted minor violations, pledging that they will all be investigated.
“Our votes were stolen!” Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption whistleblower and activist, who has become a driving force in the Russian protest movement, shouted to the crowd from a massive stage installed at one end of the avenue. 'We came here to get them back! Give them back right now!” Navalny said to cheers from the crowd.
Boris Nemtsov, a long-time Putin critic and former deputy prime minister, also addressed the demonstrators, appealing to them to go to the polls in presidential elections scheduled for next March 4 “but not to cast one single vote for Putin.”
“Let’s keep Putin out of the Kremlin!” he said, after which the crowd began chanting: “Russia Without Putin! Russia Without Putin!” As Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the country’s liberal opposition, talked, he got booed by groups of Russian nationalists and Communists who gathered separately in the crowd.
Communists waved red flags, nationalists waved yellow-and-black banners of imperial Russia and liberals waved white flags above the sea of people in downtown Moscow. Many participants of the rally held white balloons and wore white ribbons in lapels as symbols of the protest. In a televised call-in show last week, Putin said that he took these ribbons for condoms when he watched television reports from the previous protest rallies.
“We have a fine Constitution and it gives every citizen the legal right to public assembly and to expression of our opinions,” said one demonstrator in a video report from the rally.
Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin addressed the rally, calling on its participants to pursue their demands for political change in an organized way and stay away from revolution. Protesters adopted a resolution calling for new and fair elections, open registration for all opposition parties by February 2012, the immediate release of all political activists detained during protests and the annulment of the December 4 election results they claim were rigged.
Other demands included the resignation of Churov, the prosecution of all those involved in ballot stuffing and a vote against Putin, who is widely believed to be able to win the March 4 presidential elections in Russia to return to the presidential post he held in 2000-2008.
All opposition parties, not only the so-called ‘establishment opposition’, must be registered and allowed to run to ensure genuinely free and fair elections, the resolution said. Dozens of protesters were detained across Russia, but apparently none in Moscow. Protests took place in many Russian cities, drawing from several dozen to several thousand people.
Ten activists from the Other Russia opposition group were detained in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, 22 protesters were held in Nizhny Novgorod, in central Russia and about 20 were detained in the Siberian city of Barnaul.Police were generally more lenient, in some cases allowing even unauthorized protests to go ahead with no reports of police brutality. (RIA Novosti)